ELLIJAY, Ga. – Both protesters and police commented tonight with two words that many have not heard recently in news, a “peaceful protest” in Ellijay concluded despite rain and counter-protests in the area.
Authorities prepared after permits were approved yesterday, June 3, for a planned protest expecting 25 to 30 people in attendance. Even Eloisa Rafael, one of three students who were the organizers of the event along with Pedro Chavez and Nashely Hernandez, said that they were expecting around 25 people when they were planning and speaking with friends.
Instead, what the three students saw, were preliminary estimates closer to 200 people gathered in and around the roundabout in Downtown Ellijay with signs, speeches, and chants for support of the Black Lives Matter movements and for prominent names in both media and movements around the country.
All three of the organizers voiced their surprise and excitement at the larger turnout saying that they felt very encouraged by the level of community support in that way.
As protestors began the rally at 4:00 p.m., organizers called for peace and non-violence as they voiced opinions and chants, one man even stood to call for dialogue with police as he said that without dialogue, there can be no change. One of their first speakers, Pastor Robert Diaz, spoke a prayer over the gathering before offering words of encouragement for equality and rights saying, “We are going to make every effort, every day, to let our kids know, and our society know, that love shall prevail over hate, over discrimination, and whatever else.”
Diaz later said in an interview after the event that he was there to support the Black Lives Matter movement saying, “Obviously, all lives do matter, but in this instance, it is actually the black community that is actually more oppressed. We can see that all over, for decades… We are here as a nation, united, to raise our voice and to let the world know that this has to stop.”
Protesters continued under police supervision throughout their two-hour-long rally with speakers and representatives from the community including ministers and students who called for attention to social issues including the death of George Floyd and other media reports of police violence.
Protest organizer Nashely Hernandez said, “I helped organize this today because people need to stop being judge just because of the color of their skin.”
Others echoed the sentiment saying that the message of love and cooperation was central to what they wanted to convey. Local minister, Reverand Adam Bradley, of the Cherry Log Christian Church said, “Be Love” as he spoke to those gathered and offered his message of loving each other in the community.
After allowing certain community members to step forward to speak as well as prepared speakers, chants rang out through the downtown area as they continued their demonstration. Before long, a second group had formed on North Main Street counter-protesting the demonstration. Police stepped in to keep the groups separate, and while chants and rhetoric came from both sides, police and authorities maintained order in the separation of the groups throughout the rally’s length.
Police involvement stretched beyond one entity, however. The Ellijay Police Department lead permitting and planning for the event. However, authorities present at the event shared information that support and deputies came from all around the area as representatives of the Gilmer Sheriff’s Office and Fannin Sheriff’s Office along with other law enforcement officers from Whitfield and Cherokee Counties.
Protest organizer Pedro Chavez said, “We have had a good interaction with the police. We’ve had good communication. They understand what we’re here to do. They understand that we are here to protest peacefully… We appreciate their assistance, but we are here to protest against police brutality, against discrimination, against racism. But overall, we have had a good interaction with the police department.”
On the police side of the event, Ellijay Police Chief Edward Lacey said, “We couldn’t hope for a better event.”
He added that situations like today are always tense because of the unknown. But said, “The organizers were upfront with us and worked with us. That showed that they had a legitimate exercise of their first amendment rights.” As he addressed in an interview, one of the key points of the event was that the group pf protesters peacefully gathered and shared their message and peacefully left.
Those protesters pushed on despite counter-protests and even a bout of heavy rainfall, soaking many of those present as the stood in the center of the roundabout with only trees for cover. One protester repeatedly offered prayers throughout the event and continued his offerings through the same rainfall. He said he was protesting and stayed because “I think we all need to come together as a community, the police and the people, and put away the hate with love and prayer. Support Back the Blue and Black Lives Matter.”
Many others also offered support for both movements, including Karen Brown, who said, “There is no justice untill ALL God’s people are equal.”
Brown, a former teacher, referenced the “8 minutes 46 seconds,” a common reference to the death of George Floyd, as she too said that all lives do matter, but “right now the issue is black lives.”
As the rally concluded and protesters dispersed, many offered statements saying this is only the beginning and promises to each other that they would see them again soon. Eloisa Rafael also said she expects more, “I expect for this not to be the end of it. I expect for Ellijay to keep growing, keep changing, and understand that we are all equal.”
Two weeks after the Christmas event called “Shop with a Hero,” as most of Gilmer County prepares for the new year. A story comes in from one of those who volunteered for the event.
Attending the event as a reporter is one thing, many people focus on the aspect of helping the community and the joy on the kids faces. But some may notice something more. Looking around, there was more than just kids and families there. There were more people affected than just those who were helped. Reaching out to the agencies who participated, FYN got a very special response from one officer who volunteered. Take a moment and feel this story from Ellijay Police Chief Edward Lacey:
Captain Ray Grace of Ellijay Police Department has been talking about his desire to have a Shop with a Cop type program for at least three years. We recently had a criminal case which required the assistance of the GBI and as such we spend a lot of time with GBI Special Agent Renea Green. One day (about 8 weeks before our event) SA Green, Capt. Grace, and myself were in Captain Grace’s office when the topic of this type of program came up. Special Agent Green became very excited and we found that she had worked first hand with a similar program in Bartow County. As the conversation bumped around the room the creative juices flowed between Grace and Green and by the end of the day they were fully committed to making sure this program came to fruition.
The decision was made to not just do a “Shop with a Cop” program, but to include all public safety in Gilmer County. The name Shop with a Hero was born. Since the Ellijay Police Foundation has been up and running for a couple of years now, it was deemed the perfect vehicle for the program as it has civilian oversight in a non-public safety affiliated board of directors. We had a meeting with all public safety department and agency heads and school officials and the program was off and running. We originally planned to try to sponsor 25 children in our school system for a $150 shopping trip to Walmart with $75 mandatory spent on clothes and the other $75 on anything the child wanted to purchase (within reason, of course). It was just a few weeks of support flowing in when we had met our goal and we noticed that we were going to be able to do so much more than we originally planned.
Soon we were financially able to sponsor 52 children. At first we thought about focusing on youth who were in foster care and/or identified by DFACS as children in need. But in our hearts we knew that there were other children that had not been “touched by the system” that were just as needy. We knew that there were many programs out there to help with foster care, CASA, and DFACS but realized that these other children often go overlooked. That’s when we decided to involve those who know the children the best – our counselors from the Gilmer Schools.
It was amazing to see all of public safety working together with private businesses and the public school system to take care of these children in need. The financial support surpassed our dreams. Soon we realized that we could do more than just sponsor shopping with 52 children. We paid off the lunchroom debt of one school, set up a system to provide school counselors the ability to purchase shoes, jackets, and other necessary clothes (year round) for children that were in need. The folks at Walmart, especially Tom (manager) were awesome. They just kept on giving support. Their efforts provided a huge amount of food for the High School food pantry.
When the day of the event came, I had asked not to shop with a child unless it was the last resort. I didn’t want to take the opportunity away from any police officer, dispatcher, or fire fighter. When the leadership nodded at me and paired me up with a 10 year old girl, I must admit that I was a bit out of my element. Although I have a 3 year old granddaughter, I am the father of sons and don’t know much about shopping with girls. I didn’t know what to expect.
It was not long before my heart strings were tugged hard. First I learned that her grandmother was with us because her mother had recently passed away from an illness. Next came what truly revealed this precious girl’s heart. She did not shop for herself first, but purchased Christmas gifts for 5 friends and then a small toy for her cat. When I asked, “Okay, do you need any clothes?” she told me that she was singing in church on Sunday evening and needed something to wear. I said, “Really? What church” to which she replied, “First Baptist”. It was not until this point that I knew that she was involved in the music program at my church and that she would be singing during the same program as my wife on Sunday evening. That’s when I remembered what an old friend once told me, “There are no coincidences. Only God at work”.
She picked out a few clothes but I could see that she had her eyes on a red sequined romper. She picked it up a few times and put it back. I leaned over to her grandmother and asked, “What’s she doing” and was told, “she’s worried about spending too much money”. I had been keeping track of the budget and noticed that we had spent about $50. I went over to her and said, “Get it. It’s okay, just get it”. Her face lit up and then we went and got some shoes, and earrings. Surprisingly, she didn’t really get any toys for herself, but stocked up on paints and craft supplies. Soon, with a quick hug and photo op, we were out of there to go our separate ways.
I couldn’t wait for Sunday evening. I can’t tell you how great it was to see her all dressed up in the church musical on Sunday evening. They sounded wonderfully. She wasn’t the least shy in singing or performing and looked awesome in her sequin romper, white sweater, grey shoes, and sparkly earrings.
One thing I’ve learned after 30 years of law enforcement is that the “warm and fuzzy” moments which shed light upon why we do what we do are rare. When these happen we cling to them as the sustenance that gets us through the darkness. If this were my last warm and fuzzy moment of my career, this one would sustain me until then.
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Authorities from Gilmer County Public Safety, East Ellijay Police, and Ellijay Fire are currently responding to what witnesses are calling a major accident at the intersection of First Avenue and Highwy 515 near Hardee’s.
Authorities have shut down the Northbound lane of Hwy 515 at this time as they assist with those involved and attempt to clear the road.
East Ellijay Police Chief Larry Callahan has confirmed one person is in critical condition. There are also at least two others classified as injured, but are well enough to be walking.5
Citizens should use Highway 52 to travel past the accident before returning to Highway 515 Northbound via Greenfield Road. FYN has reached out to authorities for comment on the clean-up and condition of the accident and is awaiting a response as they continue to respond to the incident.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Fire Department is continuing with changes to budget recommendations since last October.
While discussions at that time had former Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett prioritizing a pumper truck higher on the list, the new Public Safety Director Keith Kucera, along with Fire Chief Daniel Kaufman, have urged the Commissioners to reconsider this budget priority.
Instead of the truck, Kucera and Kaufman are asking the Board of Commissioners (BOC) to prioritize the upgrading and replacement of older turnout gear for firefighters. The new gear will be funded from the same money that was set for the truck. However, Board of Commissioner Chairman Charlie Paris states that there is expected to be a difference in the financial allocations. Therefore, an amendment will be needed.
With 30 complete sets of gear, three vendors have been looked at. The cheapest vendor offers Lion Brand gear at $61,705.50.
The department is also looking to replace 28 air packs for the firefighters to transition from 2216 PSI to 4500 PSI. Kaufman said this allows longer work times on scene as well as better compatibility with Ellijay’s Fire Department.
The estimates for the 28 air packs with spare masks and cylinders, along with extras like voice amplifiers and larger batteries, totaled $215,740, according to Kaufman who spoke during the BOC April Meeting.
Kaufman went on to say that the Fire Department wants to get to a point where they may rotate this gear among volunteer stations or other places of need. With this, the department would potentially only be looking to buy ten sets every 3 years instead of making large purchases like they are looking at now.
Additionally, the county Fire Department’s ladder truck failed an inspection with an issue in the turntable at the base of the ladder that allows it to rotate. Kucera stated the truck is from 1986 and it has just “failed over time.”
Due to the age of the truck, Kucera said there is a sole source bid situation for repairs. That bid came in at $39,150. Paris questioned what the cost of replacing the truck completely could total. Kucera and Kaufman both said it would be around $500,000.
While the Commissioners agreed on the severity of the need, allowing Paris and Chief Financial Officer Sandi Holden to look deeper into the budget and find the difference between the originally budgeted pumper truck and the need for the gear, air packs, and ladder truck repair.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – “Solidarity” was the word used by one fireman who spoke at Thursday’s, March 14, Commissioners Meeting.
That show of solidarity included 15 members of public safety’s fire and ems divisions as the stood together to tell the BOC that they are happy with the direction and way the Public Safety Department is moving.
To take that one step further, Gilmer County Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris skipped ahead on his agenda to return the favor by officially announcing Keith Kucera as the full-time Public Safety Director. Kucera has served as interim since February 12, 2019, and now begins his service as the full time Director, leaving the interim title behind.
Kucera also released information to FYN that an official announcement has also been made about the full-time Fire Chief. Kucera was proud to announce Daniel Kauffman will be taking the position as Kucera tells FYN he comes from Ocala, Florida.
Kucera said that Kauffman brings 30 years of fire service experience from Marion County in Florida as a District Chief and a Battalion Chief. He also has a Master’s Degree in Human Resources and a Bachelor’s Degree in Fire Science.
Despite recent issues in the Fire Department, Paris stated to those present that they had no idea how much their public display meant to the Board.
Further, those fire and ems staff present offered standing applause to the announcement of Kucera to the Director position during the meeting.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Less than a day after Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris announced Mike Dempsey as the new Interim Fire Chief, he has stepped down as well.
This makes the third Fire Chief to have left the position in the month of March counting previous Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett, first-interim Brian Scudder, and, now, second-interim Mike Dempsey. Just like Brian Scudder, Dempsey will continue his service in the Fire Department, but is not going to serve as interim chief.
Paris has not indicated who he will name as interim Fire Chief next. With the continuing issues in the Department, it is unclear if he will seek another interim from within the ranks or if he will look elsewhere.
ELLIJAY, Ga – Despite numerous weather and climate hurdles including a cold evening sharpened by winds and rain at times, the Downtown Ellijay Business and Community Association (DEBACA) is reporting a very successful year.
With some changes like the absence of the town of Bethlehem that First Baptist Church hosted at last year’s event and added security measures, this year’s event was noticeably different than 2017. Changes that both DEBACA Chairman Steve Cortes and Ellijay Police Chief Edward Lacey praise as improvements to the event.
One major safety improvement that both parties noted separately was barricades set up to block the parking spaces on the roundabout, allowing pedestrians to safely view both the tree lighting and parade apart from traffic and parade vehicles. While these barricades have been used for the majority of 2018, this is the first Light-Up Ellijay event they have been used. The major difference being that this parade is largely held in the dark with lights on the float and the town decorations illuminating the area.
Chief Lacey noted this year’s event went “very smooth” as they conducted safety and traffic control with six on-duty officers. He also reported no traffic issues during the event and the after-event surge.
The parade hosted around 35 different groups, according to Cortes, and just under 20 vendors in the temporary market throughout the day. Though he says DEBACA did scale back on certain things, the event still pulled in one of the best business days for downtown merchants despite the tree-lighting ceremony being interrupted with a 5-minute rain shower and a continuing sprinkling of rain until the parade.
Lacey referred to the event as a “more traditional Light-Up Ellijay event.” With Santa Claus appearing on the city steps just before 2:00 p.m. and the market on Broad Street quickly following, citizens and merchants in downtown seem to agree saying, “no question its safer and more efficient.”
Along the lines of balancing Light-Up Ellijay between a tourism event and a local event, Cortes told FYN that despite cancelling the Whoville earlier in November, there are still plans to return to it in coming years. However, he did add that DEBACA has been considering multiple options including hosting Whoville in partnership with another organization with available manpower to host the event on a separate day from Light-Up Ellijay and more cosplay actors to enlarge it on its own.
With possibilities for the future of Light-Up Ellijay being discussed, Cortes also noted the he, personally, thinks that the events success could continue into next year by adding to the parade size and seeking opportunities for the marching band or live-music of some sort.
Citizens, law-enforcement, and business owners all seem to agree that Light-Up Ellijay was indicative of continuing a bright future for Ellijay’s Downtown Events.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Most of the time, when you meet a police officer, it really isn’t a pleasant experience. It has nothing to do with the people, and everything to do with their job.
You may meet them when you’re getting a ticket because you were in a big hurry and may have gone a bit over the limit, or maybe you called because you were robbed and need help, you may have even called to report a wreck and need to give your statement. In any case, the vast majority of the time, police respond to bad situations, it’s really part of the job description.
This year the Ellijay Police Foundation, a non-profit organization supporting the police force, hosted a night in an effort to change that. The National Night Out is a nation-wide community-building event that supports officers and organizations across America, but as Ellijay’s original plan for the date of the event in early August, the rain forced a reschedule.
This weekend, the Ellijay Police Foundation made good on that promise by hosting the event Saturday between 4 and 8 p.m. The event saw many of Ellijay’s Officer’s hosting or dropping by to say hello to citizens and share their time to allow the people to speak with them, play with them, and eat with them, all free of charge.
With music flowing across North Main Street and into the parking lot next to First Baptist Church, the Ellijay Police Department partnered with the Ellijay Fire Department, the Gilmer Sheriff’s Office, The Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s ICAC (Internet Crimes Against Children) Task Force, and its sponsors to set up the police motorcycles, police cruisers, the fire truck, a hummer, and a sheriff’s cruiser for citizens to view, sit in, play with, and climb through. Kids and parents alike were allowed to set off the sirens and lights and try on the equipment that these men and women wear every day.
There was also a golf cart with a driving course and the standard test that citizens could go through while wearing “drunk goggles” simulating inebriation.
Pilgrim’s of Ellijay donated chicken and hot dogs for grilling along with the manpower and the grill to cook for the event. Country Corner Kitchen and Coca-Cola donated a trailer and people to hand out cold drinks. North Georgia Party Rentals donated a bounce house and a dunk tank to help celebrate as well.
That dunk tank saw major attention from citizens as officers climbed in. For a one dollar donation, a person could take three shots at the target to dunk the officer in the tank.
A surprise arose as a donation came from the department’s own Chief Edward Lacey to dunk one of his officers. What many citizens didn’t hear at first was that Lacey had jokingly called it “insurance” as he would be in the tank himself later in the day.
His “insurance” was response to a few people that had managed to run up and hit the button by hand instead of throwing a ball at the dunk tank. The terms were that no one was allowed to hit the button by hand unless they beat his own donation.
The protection was short-lived, however, as his officers found a “generous donor” that offered $100 to allow two officers to hit the button together to drop the Chief by hand.
The event came in partnership as the brain-child of Chief Edward Lacey and hosted by the Ellijay Police Foundation. The foundation’s purpose is to build and foster community with the police as well as gathering funds and donations to provide more training to these officers. Lacey has since reported that over $500 was raised by the dunk tank in support of these efforts.
According to Detective Colburn of the Ellijay Police Department, this is set to become an annual event for the Ellijay Police Department, though it will likely return to its original August date next year as the rain delay pushed it back to September this year.
Check out more photos from the event with our Album on FYN’s Facebook.
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – East Ellijay Police Chief Larry Callihan has confirmed an arrest during last night’s incident at the Food Lion in East Ellijay.
According to the police report, Officer Harold Crowder responded to a call at 7:21 p.m. on July 1 involving a female subject being attacked in the restroom.
Upon arriving on the scene, the officer was escorted into the building by the store’s manager who pointed out the suspect. The report identifies the suspect as David James Gravley. Crowder’s report states that when he put his cuffs on Gravley and asked him what happened, “he stated she mumbled something that pissed him off so he hit her.”
The report also reveals that the victim stated she was in the bathroom when “she heard someone else come in behind her and as she walked out of the stall, a man grabbed her from behind…”
The victim reported that the person attacking her forcefully held her, kept grabbing her, groped her, and punched her in the face. The report also notes several injuries including blood from her nose, swelling in her face, and several scratches on her neck, throat, arms, and back.
Later, at the Gilmer County Detention Center, Gravley stated that all he would say without his lawyer was, “All I have to say is all I wanted was her money.” The report goes on to say that he later said he was broke and needed the money to buy some Marijuana.
According to the Detention Center Booking Report, Gravley is facing charges of Robbery, Disorderly Conduct, Sexual Battery, False Imprisonment, and Simple Battery.
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Having hired a contract employee for picking up litter on city streets, the East Ellijay City Council approved the spending for the contract. The employee is working alongside the street department and services the area for litter control. Along with the item of the employee, East Ellijay Mayor Mack West spoke to the council saying, “I, personally, feel like we need to assess different penalties for litter violations applicable to repeat offenders.”
The Gilmer county commissioners have already been discussing the item after an increase of community requests to deal with the issue. Continuing the discussion, East Ellijay is now also on board increasing response and control of the litter.
Though no official action set a specific number increasing from the current $236 public littering fine, Mayor West did ask the members of council if they would be okay with increasing the fines with none speaking out in opposition. Additionally, East Ellijay Police Chief Larry Callahan discussed speaking with officers to pay more attention to the issue and those who they see littering. This discussion came on top of officially approving the policy for litter control and having the extra employee.
Also, in the Police Department, the council approved purchasing three patrol car cameras for the department. Callahan said that with the vast majority of other law enforcement agencies already having cameras, courts are beginning to throw out cases without the video evidence supporting traffic violations. With the estimate Callahan has received, the $10,650 cost of purchasing and installing the cameras will be split. Two of the cameras will be paid out of the city’s hotel-motel fund, and the third camera will be paid for out of the police confiscation fund.
With the change in courts handling of their cases, Callahan spoke with the council about the camera purchases saying, “It’s a ‘have-to’ essentially.” Callahan is also looking to purchase another three cameras next budget year.
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Amid charges of theft by taking and violation of oath of office, East Ellijay Police Chief Larry Callihan has confirmed Michael McClure has resigned from the East Ellijay Police.
Recalling the arrest record of McClure, he was originally placed on administrative leave by the department, but recent developments show the former officer resigning his post. According to the arrest record, McClure is accused of taking a money order from a woman’s purse, after arresting her, and later cashing it.
(Photo by Kelsey Richardson of the Andrews Journal)
ELLIJAY, Ga. – After a news story in the Andrews Journal today, one sentence has caused confusion among Gilmer County’s citizens and officials.
FetchYourNews (FYN) has confirmed with Gilmer County Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett that he is indeed taking a job in Andrews, North Carolina, as police chief for the department.
The Andrews Journal states, “Pritchett, who has family throughout Cherokee County, is from Gilmer County, Ga. He is transitioning from his role as the Gilmer County Public Safety director to Andrews police chief. Pritchett additionally has experience as chief of the Gilmer County Volunteer Fire Department.”
FYN reported the article to Gilmer County. Additionally, Pritchett has confirmed with FYN that he is transitioning away from the East Ellijay Police Department where Pritchett says he has worked shifts for eight years. Moving his police work to Andrews, Pritchett says he has taken the position for flexibility in his schedule. While he usually had night shifts in East Ellijay, Andrews will allow a less rigid schedule meaning less affect on his main position of public safety director in Gilmer, which he is not leaving.
Coming out of executive session, Pritchett was voted to be hired by the town’s Board of Aldermen. FYN has also checked with Gilmer County Chairman Charlie Paris who stated he confirmed with the town’s mayor that the new position will allow Pritchett to expand and support their police force as chief.
The Andrews Journal did report that Pritchett spoke about bringing a “good respectable and professional police force” to the city and later noted that when the new police force is hired, Pritchett would be focusing on the town’s drug crisis.
When FYN caught up with Pritchett about possibly transitioning away from Gilmer, he responded, “I love the county too much, and I ain’t going nowhere.”
The Andrews Police Department has diminished in the last year after the casino opened. Pritchett told FYN he would be adding his training and expertise to rebuild the department. While the new position will help to grow their department, Pritchett declined to say if there was a set period that he would be there saying, “As long as it is something that doesn’t take away from my responsibilities as public safety director, I don’t mind staying, helping out, and being a part of the department for a while. As long as it doesn’t place too much weight on me from here because Gilmer County, the citizens of Gilmer County, being public safety director and fire chief is my primary duty.”
Summarizing the entirety of the new position, Pritchett summed up his move as “swapping his extra job.”
ELLIJAY, Ga – Prior to the Ellijay City Council’s November Meeting, they heard a proposal from Russel Brown, local paramedic, for a community welfare program similar to programs in other counties like Floyd County.
According to Brown, patients statistically do better recovering at home. This program would encourage and supervise home health. Different from home healthcare programs, Brown said much of the welfare program is focused on prevention of readmission to hospitals and emergency rooms. They would focus on aspects like vital signs and communication for paperwork. If the program moves forward, it would start out within the Ellijay City Limits.
Funding and grants are available, Brown said, and much of the expense would come from strips for glucometers to measure blood glucose. While he hopes one day it could grow into a community paramedic program, he wished to start at community welfare. Those providing the service would be limited in care, and Brown stated that EMS would still be called for necessary situations.
Specific details for the proposal will come possibly as early as the December City Council meeting as the council requested Brown to return with an official written proposal to detail more things like cost and liability among others.
Another healthcare entity presented a variance request to change the sign for Gilmer Nursing Home on 1362 South Main St. While the variance request was submitted to exceed the three-foot sign regulation of the city, it would in fact be lower than the current sign. Standing at 21 feet now, the request states the new sign will only reach 12 feet in height. A representative from Signs of Interest, Andy Lawson, told FYN the sign change was partially to clean up the facilities appearance and simplify the extras to a lower “nicer looking sign.”
Officially approved by the council, the sign will include a small message board to be utilized by the nursing home. Lawson provided FYN with a drawing of what the sign is expected to look like. Though the sign change is indicative of a name change as part of a remodeling project, Lawson told the council that SunLink Health Systems still owns the nursing home.
Following the same road further south, Highway 382’s changes came to Ellijay with a formal notification by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) that they will abandon the section of Highway 382 that currently extends from the intersection of 382 and Old Highway 5 to the connection at Highway 515. As seen in the picture, GDOT will be constructing a new connector straight across to Highway 515 with a roundabout at the intersection.
The notification comes with the city of Ellijay needing to accept the abandoned portion of 382 into its responsibility for paving and maintenance. However, a motion was made at the meeting to table the item. Citizens can expect the council to revisit the issue in December.
Along with their discussion of roads, an official petition has reached the council to add speed bumps to Gilmer Street near the Senior Center. The petition garnered 20 names and roused discussion from the council about returning the street to a one-way street as well as discussion on purchasing speed bumps for the street. Continued complaints about the speed of vehicles on the street led to suggestions to officially request the change via petition. Discussion took a turn as Ellijay Police Chief Edward Lacey informed the council that the street was, at one time, a one-way street.
Gilmer Street is a more narrow street and discussion arose as, if the city returned it to one way, they were unsure of which way to direct the traffic. The council tabled the item and requested an official recommendation from Lacey, on how to return it to a one-way street, to discuss along with the speed bumps option. Again, citizens should look for the council to revisit the item in December.
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.
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.
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.
CITY OF ATLANTA’S FORMER CHIEF PROCUREMENT OFFICER
ADAM SMITH PLEADS GUILTY TO TAKING BRIBES
ATLANTA – Adam L. Smith, the former Chief Procurement Officer for the City of Atlanta, has pleaded guilty to conspiring to accept more than $30,000 in bribe payments from a vendor who obtained millions of dollars in city contracts.
“Great trust was placed in Smith as Chief Procurement Officer for the City of Atlanta, and he abused his position to serve his own financial interests,” said U.S. Attorney John A. Horn. “Public corruption offenses, like Smith’s, can erode the confidence that the people have in government.”
“The guilty plea in federal court of former City of Atlanta Procurement Officer Adams will ensure that he is held accountable for his greed based criminal conduct as he now awaits sentencing. It is hoped that this case serves as notice to others that similar such conduct among public officials will not be condoned and that there are severe consequences should that notice go unheeded,” said David J. LeValley, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office.
“Public service is a public trust, requiring employees to obey laws and ethical principles above private gain. Smith abused his public trust to enrich himself at a cost to the taxpayers,” said James E. Dorsey, Acting Special Agent in Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation. “We will continue to work with the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office in making these public corruption investigations a priority.”
According to U.S. Attorney Horn, the charges and other information presented in court: From 2003 to February 21, 2017, Smith served as the Chief Procurement Officer for the City of Atlanta, Georgia. As the Chief Procurement Officer, Smith oversaw the City of Atlanta’s purchasing activities and its expenditure of billions of dollars in public money for projects.
The information refers to a vendor who was an executive with a construction firm in Atlanta, Georgia, but does not identify them by name. During Smith’s tenure as the Chief Procurement Officer, Atlanta awarded contracts worth millions of dollars to Vendor’s firm and joint venture projects of which Vendor was a partner.
From at least 2015 to January 2017, Smith met privately with Vendor on multiple occasions, frequently at local restaurants. During these meetings, Smith and Vendor discussed Atlanta procurement projects, bids, and solicitations. Often at the time of these meetings, Vendor was actively seeking contracts, projects, and work with Atlanta.
After most of these meetings, Vendor and Smith met in the restaurant’s bathroom, where Vendor paid Smith approximately $1,000 in cash. In return for the bribe payments, Vendor expected Smith to use his position and power as Atlanta’s Chief Procurement Officer to assist Vendor with contracting/procurement with Atlanta and to furnish Vendor with future benefits and favors when needed.
Given his position, Smith was required to sign annually a financial disclosure statement certifying that he had not received more than $5,000 in annual income from any corporation, partnership, proprietorship, or other business entity other than Atlanta. Additionally, under Atlanta’s Procurement Code, Smith also had to “make a written determination as to the existence” of any “personal or organizational conflicts of interest exist” between vendors and Atlanta before awarding a vendor a solicited contract. Similarly, Atlanta’s Procurement Code mandated that Smith “certify to the city council” that the winning vendors had disclosed to Atlanta any “organizational and personal relationships” and that the “award of the contract [was] appropriate.”
Furthermore, in exchange for those cash payments:
- Smith met with Vendor on a regular basis;
- Smith provided Vendor with information and counsel regarding Atlanta’s procurement processes (among other information);
- When Vendor’s firm or joint venture became the successful bidder on an Atlanta contract or Request for Proposal, Smith approved and submitted the award of such procurement projects or bids to Atlanta’s mayor and city council for final authorization;
- Smith never disclosed his ongoing financial relationship with Vendor and/or Vendor’s firm on his Financial Disclosure Statements to Atlanta; and
- Smith never advised Atlanta’s City Council that the Vendor’s firm or joint venture had failed to disclose its organizational and personal relationships with him.
In total, from at least 2015 to January 2017, Vendor paid Smith more than $30,000 in cash.
Adam L. Smith, 53, Atlanta, Georgia, pleaded guilty to conspiratorial bribery. Sentencing is scheduled for January 16, 2018, before U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation are investigating this case.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jeffrey W. Davis, Kurt R. Erskine, and Jill E. Steinberg are prosecuting the case.
For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office atUSAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is http://www.justice.gov/usao-ndga.