ELLIJAY, Ga. – With five days left to election day, many citizens are still deciding who to vote for in the county’s Post 1 Commissioner campaign after the recent Candidate Forum.
The five candidates in the race, Jason Biggs, Al Cash, Hubert Parker, Ed Stover, and Jerry Tuso, are still making strides in these final days up to the election as Gilmer still has some undecided and wavering votes. One voter told FYN, “I really wanted to early vote this week, but I have absolutely no idea who to vote for.”
The Republican Party’s Candidate Forum from last week is also continuing to provide one last glimpse into the candidates before ballots are cast. The event also held a straw poll showing results of those who attended the forum. Those results had Jason Biggs and Hubert Parker tied at 40 percent. Al Cash at 14 percent. Both Jerry Tuso and Ed Stover collected 3 percent.
One commenter on Social Media, Ted Barrett stated, “To me Cash and Biggs were running neck to neck until the last two questions. That’s when Biggs separated himself to take a big lead.”
The Candidate Forum ran from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. with each candidate taking 5 minutes to speak directly about themselves and their campaign. Then, they took turns answering questions posed by the crowd as they originally entered the venue.
The night concluded with extra time for the candidates to mingle and speak with people at their tables for more personal conversations. With the election so close, some may think the candidates are coasting to the end, but FYN has still seen these candidates working hard on the campaign trail in numerous events including last weekend’s Chili Challenge and this week’s Gilmer Chamber Ellijay City Council Candidate Forum.
With only five days left to the election, the one common theme among the candidates and we at FYN share, citizens need to find time through these last two days of early voting or on Tuesday, November 5, 2019, Election Day, to get out and vote. Make your voice heard as a part of Gilmer County and its direction into our future.
“It appeared to be a time when my background and experience would be a help to the county,” said Post 1 Commissioner Candidate Hubert Parker when asked why he decided to run in this year’s election.
Hubert Parker has lived in Gilmer County for 15 years since he last moved here, however, he also grew up in the county before moving away. “You keep coming back,” he said as he has continued to return to the county and family who have lived here. He has been married for 55 years and has two kids, a son and a daughter.
Parker has served as a certified public accountant for three years, 33 years in University of Georgia’s Business and Financial Administration,
Such a business background focused on banking relationships and treasury functions throughout his accounting experiences as Parker agree it is not his first time in budget processes and balancing finances. In fact, its not even the first time Parker has served in parts of Gilmer’s government. He has served on the Board of Tax Assessors and Building Authority before.
Parker said he mainly wanted to focus on roads and jobs, growing small business in the county and finding the right kind of businesses saying, “The quality of life is very important here, and we have to keep that in mind in the kind of businesses we recruit.”
Parker pointed to a lack of jobs for young people in the county as an example of this need. He said creating opportunities for people is only one step. Projects like the CORE (Collaboration On River’s Edge) Facility and its mentor programs is another step.
As we continue growing and recruiting businesses, Parker said we need to recognize and appreciate the tourism as well. Looking even further out, other projects and goals for Parker include a desire to continue expanding the water system and reduce the impact of the county’s debt.
In his part to accomplish these goals, Parker said, “I want to continually seek to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of county government.”
While realizing a Post Commissioner is not as involved in the day-to-day operations, Parker said he feels that being on the board, helping to identify these opportunities and guide the board while working with the other commissioners.
When asked what he sees as some of the challenges ahead if elected, Parker noted that working towards improving roads and continuing along the budget process could present challenges as he steps into the position mid-process. But he reasserted that continuing the intergovernmental relationships was another point he wanted to focus on with their projects.
Alternatively, Parker said he has never run for public office, but the aspect has energized him as he continues to get involved and speak to people in the county. He is continuing to learn “the whole picture of the county.”
Development of the county is important to Hubert Parker as he says he wants to keep the character of the county and not change the quality of life.
Looking specifically at recent issues the county has faced, Parker said he wants a full study on Carters Lake saying, “Let’s look at the total picture, lay everything on the table before we make a decision, and then from that, based on good information, make our decision.”
Studying financial feasibility and benefits versus costs, Parker said he wants to know what’s being offered while considering the money.
Similarly, when considering the pool, Parker said, “We need a pool, the young people need a pool, the teams need a pool. This is important. The problem as I understand it, I’ll find out more if I am elected, is where to put it.” In making these decisions, people want it to be convenient, but the county has to consider the project as a whole and locations based on financial practicality and location viability.
Some of these issues continue to focus on the natural resources the county has. In addition to the people, Parker said the rivers, the lake, the mountains, and the agricultural heart of the county are things the county holds dear. Parker said these are not resources to be exploited and taken advantage of, but they must be used and managed responsibly.
Taking up a leadership position is nothing new to Parker, even if an elected position is. Debating and working towards solutions as part of the board is a labor of mutual respect. He said he feels strong stepping into the position, even coming amid the tail end of the county’s budget process.
“I view myself as a workhorse, not a showhorse,” Parker said as he explained an uneasiness with the public eye and media attention of his campaign. Working towards the county’s future and the goals set is what Parker says he wants to strive for.
“I feel I bring maturity and experience to the board.” In his own words, Post 1 Commissioner Candidate Jerry Tuso explains why he qualified and is running for the position.
An Air Force Veteran operating in Air Traffic Control, Jerry Tuso has also served for 21 years as an FAA Air Traffic Controller with another 20 years as a government contractor for FAA Controllers, FAA Weather Observer, and Naval Weather.
The experience he brings also comes from when he was Chairman of Planning and Zoning in Hurst, Texas for three years, a town of 50,000 population, Labor Relations Manager for Crown Cork and Seal for three years, and Senior Agent for the State of Georgia DFCS (Division of Family and Children Services) for three years.
Tuso said he wants to bring this experience forward to the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners and its recent growth over the years. He explained that while growth is inevitable, it should inevitably be done correctly. Through continued oversight in the county, the citizens’ money should be protected and guarded. Tuso said, “We have to be very responsible with our debt, with the additional possible liabilities that we take over.”
Tuso said he wanted to continue to focus on roads in the county. As the more pending situation alongside the debt, these responsibilities have to be addressed before taking on extras. With proper assistance, Tuso said the county has responsible builders and the growth we see could be a win-win situation.
Addressing the specific issue of Carters Lake, Tuso said he doesn’t see additional benefit with the county paying the cost without improving recreation for the county. He said, “I think we have to be very cautious every time the federal government wants to bequeath something to you.” Tuso wants more details to find the “strings attached.”
Additionally, Tuso spoke on the pool as he said its necessary to have different types of athletics situations for the youth. The pool is such an instance, but also serves for the older population who could use it for exercise and aerobics class possibilities. He did state that he wants to look further into funding sources saying, “I would have to be convinced first that we have exhausted all the grants at the same time.” He went on to say that he is comfortable with the county continuing to set aside money each year as long as they continue exhausting the grant opportunities.
Speaking on the more day-to-day operations, he was more focused on a support role saying, “There should be more emphasis in assisting the Chairman, supporting the Chairman, than attempting to lead.” Tuso wants to focus on the most widely productive and widely used options in the county’s future. He said you can’t exclude any portion of the county, but we have to focus on projects and operations with the greatest and most widespread benefits.
Stepping into the position if elected, Jerry Tuso pointed to the community and its attitude as his biggest excitement for the job, saying, “That’s indicative that we are doing things right, and I want to continue to do things correctly and right. I think I have a good eye for the proper growth in the county. That’s where I would like to concentrate.”
Tuso celebrated the recent expansion of the water system to more parts of the county. He wants to continue these types of expansions even further to more residential areas as well. Achieving goals like this is not something any entity can do alone. We need each other and should continue to increase our cooperation. He said he wants to consider joint meetings. With relationships growing through the Joint Comprehensive Plan, Tuso said they should open the door to ideas like this. Continuing to improve those relationships even further in new ways that have never been done before. Connecting in these ways can only further support other needs like jobs and housing.
Growth requires insight, balance, and a tempering to the type of county you want to be. As a candidate, Jerry Tuso said he believes he has that insight. He has the experience and maturity to temper that growth and to provide the support and guidance into Gilmer County’s future. Tuso said, “People have asked me why I am running again. I am running again because I think there is more to be done.”
Priorities. Post 1 Commissioner Candidate Jason Biggs says he realizes that certain things need prioritization over others. Balancing those priorities and being successful in the position requires details and research, two points that he says are a large part of his life and skills.
Though visiting family and the county for 20 years, Jason Biggs has lived in Gilmer County with his wife for the last five-and-a-half years. With two sons and one daughter, he says his family has been a family of farmers and ranchers. Today, he proudly states his grandson is a native of Gilmer County.
Currently working as a Regional Security Manager, Biggs oversees properties to maintain security and safety on a daily basis. Also retired law enforcement, he is no stranger to analysis, research, risk, and budgeting as he says he operates daily on a number of properties within his given budget. He notes that as he continues studying the changing landscape of his business to continue new initiatives that he must research and implement in his business.
However, he also states he is no stranger to staying busy and working hard in his life. When he was a full-time police officer, he also worked full-time at a store-front business for screen-printing and embroidery for over three years.
Living in Gilmer County now, it has been astonishing, Biggs said, at how easily and readily he has been accepted into the county. It is the community that has welcomed him and his family and made this place a home.
Now, as the position of Post 1 Commissioner has opened and his current job schedule has become more flexible, Biggs has become concerned with what he sees in the county that is his home. He said, “The thing that concerns me the most is that we have a debt in excess of $4,000,000 that we have to service annually for a courthouse. That was supposed to paid by sales tax… It’s very hard for me to look 20 years into the future and say, ‘Sales Tax will be able to pay for this.’ At some point, you have to realize that there is a risk of that debt coming back on the taxpayer. And I am afraid that that might happen again if we’re not careful.”
Biggs said he wants to support the recreational sides of the county, but he also knows that to enjoy these projects, people have to be able to get to the pool. he said specifically that he is for constructing a new pool, but he wants to dig deeper to find “real costs” in the project including maintenance and operations for the larger size and a second pool.
Similarly, he addressed concern over Carters Lake as the county moves into a reactionary stance to this need. Touching on the possibilities at the lake, he questioned how the county would respond if they did create a new department. What would the staff costs including benefits and salary? What would the legal fees be for contracts be? What would operations include?
Biggs said, “As a taxpayer, I want to know, it is going to cost ‘X’ amount of dollars, to the penny…If I am elected to this position, that is something I want to start doing.”
Also looking at the roads in the county, continuing the improvements and continuing to “grow intelligently” requires the priority on this infrastructure to continue its prioritization. Biggs said the infrastructure has to be top priority.
He went on to say, “Tax payer dollars should be treated as sacred. You are getting money from the sweat off of people’s backs. I think there is a lot to be said for those people paying their taxes. I think politicians need to be very, very careful how that is spent.”
As he went through these situations, he noted that he has concerns over these issues, but he felt running for the position was his way to do something. Though he is currently a concerned citizen, he didn’t want to be someone who complained about an issue but didn’t do anything about it. Finding issues is the first step, researching solutions is another.
Sometimes these issues require strange answers. Biggs recalled how he came in for tag renewal one day to find the tag office closed at lunch. He spoke about citizens who work daily and take their lunch hour to try and comply with something the government said they have to do. Whether its opening over different hours or opening Saturdays instead of another day, the compromise between the county and citizens is the key to operating the county in favor of the citizens who fund and own it.
Communication, honesty, and transparency, these three keys to any relationship are what Candidate Jason Biggs says he can bring to the Post 1 Commissioner position. When the open conversation stops, that is when the problems begins. It’s the point of involving the people of the county to include new ideas from every walk of life. This allows the board to prioritize and maximize their spending.
However, learning more about the county is more than just listening to citizens in the board room. He wants to go further in learning the ins and outs of the county. He pointed to opportunities such as possible ride-alongs with Sheriff’s Deputies to becoming more involved with Team Cartecay, the mountain biking team that his son rides with.
“Being able to look back and say, ‘Hey, I made a positive impact on something that I was involved with would be the reward, Biggs said as he spoke about the county that has welcomed him. Fostering the growth and cooperation continues through partnerships. He pointed to the work the Gilmer Chamber and their work with local business. Small business in the county is a key part of the county. Being pro-business also helps to alleviate some of the tax burden to the citizens.
Just like speaking with citizens, local business is a relationship to work alongside in pursuit of an agreed upon goal. But maintaining Gilmer’s identity, especially in areas like agricultural success, has to be protected in the growth that continues. Looking at the county as a whole has to be part of the commissioners’ jobs as they move forward with the different entities within the county, including the cities and the Chamber.
He noted the recent budget sessions the county has gone through. Watching the videos on those sessions gave some insight into the county’s needs and what each department wants. It returns to the same process as the Sheriff asks for support in their retirement plans or Public Safety in their capital requests. He said, “When you start looking at the safety and security of taxpayers, that should be paramount.” But he fell back to the details of these requests and looking at the “to the penny” costs and how they fit into the limited funds of the county.
Hearing the opinions of the people, and balancing the costs of the county, Jason Biggs said this is the job he wants to take on. Running for Post 1 Commissioner is his way to step up and face the concerns he has seen. But, he said, “If you’re looking for somebody to go along to get along, I’m not the guy. I am going to do what I feel is the best for the taxpayer’s dollars and I am going to be the voice of the people of this county because I don’t think everyone has an equal voice, and I feel like they should.”
Stability and unification, these are tenets that Al Cash said he wants to see moving forward in Gilmer County. Though he did not plan to run in the Post 1 Commissioner Race, Cash says he was approached by others who urged him to run due to his “life experiences and the integrity I have based my entire life on.”
Like many of the candidates, Cash said one of the concerns he sees and hears from citizens is the unstoppable growth the county has seen over recent years. Cash said that the growth is there, it is the job of the Board of Commissioners to control that growth and mold the county into what the citizens want for their future.
President of the Firefighters Auxiliary and volunteer for the EMA staff, Cash is also the webmaster for the Fire Department. Under the Auxiliary, he seeks additionally funding outside of the county budget for the department, manages many of the events like Kids Christmas. They seek fundraising opportunities for additional training and equipment as well.
Cash has also worked 30 years for State Farm where he worked as an adjuster and in third party litigation for 15 years and IT work for 15 years. He has lived in Gilmer County with his wife since 2012. He has one son and four daughters.
Originally having bought a house here in 2006, his family planned to retire here. He says it was definitely the people that drew him here, saying “I hear this all the time, and it’s absolutely true. It’s the people. The people are so incredibly nice… It was strange. It’s a whole different culture, and we fell in love with it.”
Standing up to run for the position of Post 1 Commissioner, Cash said it is the intangibles that set him apart for the position. From his life experiences to knowledge and organization, these are part of the skill set that he brings to a county with the unique setting and trials that Gilmer County faces.
“I see a lot of flux,” says Cash as he explained that he sees some citizens wanting to revert to the small town that has been here in the past and some wanting to embrace and grow into a larger town or city. Calling himself a traditionalist, Cash has seen both large cities and tiny towns. Balancing the growth and tradition is key in Gilmer as it moves forward. But Cash says the balance cannot be a general blanket answer. It’s a department level issue as he says each area requires its own answers and its own type of that balance.
“That’s just a lot of math and analysis, trying to figure out what is the best way to spend the money that are available. How to balance that between other departments and what’s happening in the community, it always has to be what’s best for the community as a whole,” says Cash.
With two major issues in the recent months of the county, many citizens are looking for views on the pool and Carter’s Lake.
Cash asserted that he understood that a new pool is necessary and desired by a large portion of the county. But he wants to learn more about the other questions as he asked what is the real cost? He said he wants to learn more about the details, including operations, maintenance, costs, and the viability for the community. He said, “I’m a research king. I need all the facts.”
Some of those details include the deep end addition with diving boards. Cash said he has concerns for the insurance and liability side of it as well as the additional costs.
Again with the Carter’s Lake issue as Cash said he feels many of the citizens are still unaware of the details more than just the three options available.
Details on these subjects, however, are not just for himself as Cash says the county needs stability and unification moving forward. He points out that it doesn’t mean everyone agreeing on everything, but about bringing the government and citizens closer together with more information and communication. Cash said he has even considered things like starting a blog if he becomes Post 1 Commissioner. The core of the idea is increasing connection and interaction.
On top of improving the relationship with citizens, Cash also wants to see the relations continue improving within the county. Noting the comprehensive plan as the first step in this. Cash said these entities in the county, as a whole, benefit from each other in a “scratch each other’s back” situation. Cash noted that though the cities are their own entities, the Board of Education is its own entity, and the Board of Commissioners is its own entity, it is still all inside of Gilmer County. He said, “I would like to establish as much of a working relationship with them as we can… I’d like to be part of that getting better.”
Cash also noted new ventures such as CORE joining these entities throughout the county through projects like their mentor program. The Joint Development Authority is another branch of this connection.
Continuing along the campaign trail, Cash urges citizens to get out and vote in the election. As he looks to the Post 1 Commissioner position, Cash said he is excited to be a part of the county’s forward momentum. “I would love to get in there and be a part of where we are now and moving forward. I’ve always been that way. I’ve loved getting in on the ground floor… I love building it, and making it happen. Making positive things happen.”
Committing to the position is all about “Service above Self” according to candidate Al Cash. Committing to the county in this position is, as he says, all about the Facts, Finances, and Future.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Current Councilmember and candidate for re-election on the November ballot, Lynelle Reece Stewart told FYN that she will be withdrawing from the election for Ellijay City Council.
As she announced she would be removing her name from the election, Stewart said, “There have been some unexpected developments with our home and I don’t think it is fair to the citizens of Ellijay for me to run for re-election with a possibility of being unable to serve.”
Stewart was one of 11 candidates running for Ellijay City Council this November.
With possible complications to her candidacy, Stewart did say, “I will continue to support Ellijay and its citizens for as long as I live on River Street.”
The election now moves on with the remain 10 candidates and will see a forum in October.
Jasper, Ga – The Pickens County Board of Education hosted a no-threat lockdown today on the campus of Pickens High School.
Parents and citizens saw the Pickens County Sheriff respond to concerns saying:
We currently have a team of deputies and K-9 units participating in a controlled sweep of the Pickens High School campus. While the school is being checked, students are being placed in a non-emergency lockdown status. Students are safe and no threat exists at the school.
When questioned about the lockdown, Pickens County Schools Superintendent Dr. Carlton Wilson said the K-9 sweep was scheduled for a few weeks ago, but had to be pushed back due to scheduling conflicts with Cherokee County who supplies the K-9 units. As the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office has retired its last K-9 unit for medical reasons, Wilson stated it is a part of the agreement with Cherokee County to utilize theirs.
With the lockdown and sweep completed, Wilson informed FYN that no drugs were located during the sweep today. Though he noted it was not directly related to the rising use of vape devices, Wilson did respond to questions about the trend saying that it is a concern in the school system.
Sweeps like this is a part of the school’s enforcement of its code of conduct as well as state and federal law. Though Wilson said there is more going on behind the scenes in the system’s response to the rising vape concerns and to school security in general, he declined to release details saying, “There is a number of things that we are doing and things that we are working with the Sheriff’s Office, some of that we just can’t publicize at the moment.”
More information on these steps like the K-9 sweeps and other programs the school already has in place over its years in operation can be found at the upcoming Monday, September 24, day of events involving the Office of the Sheriff, the District Attorney, and Pickens School district as they hold a meeting for parents for information and the ‘Chat with the Superintendent’ at Pickens High School at 6 p.m.
Wilson went on to note that the school system is being forced to change the way it views vaping devices. While he notes that it is against the law for underage kids to possess cigarettes and vaping devices and they have enforced the law, he did state that the school system may have, at times, not utilized the most extreme forms of discipline available in every situation involving the use of nicotine. He went on to say, “Now that this added ability of being able to vape just about anything, that brings it to a whole different level.”
As part of the school’s efforts to inform parents and students about the dangers that vapes present with not knowing what is in them, the board is working with the District Attorney and the Sheriff’s Office. Wilson said, “We may have looked at vaping in the past as more of a replacement for a cigarette, and not as a delivery device for drugs… Going forward, we probably would.”
He added later, “We’re going to have to really start disciplining to the fullest extent that we can, given to us by our Code of Conduct or either by the Law to keep our children safe.”