ELLIJAY, Ga. – As they have continued awaiting budget information from the state who is still recovering from delays due to he Coronavirus spread, the Gilmer Board of Education is moving forward with their tentative budget now as they are receiving those numbers.
According to Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, state decreases are further hindering the budget with shortfalls on support funds. However, utilizing the CARES Act grant, the school is looking to fill in some of the gaps in technology, supplies, and other needs that are still seeing gaps. The school system reduced all of its budgets by 10% and then looked for staff positions that saw people leaving and decided not to refill those positions.
Despite the cuts, the board is still looking at a budget with expenditures over revenues, a not uncommon sight in the school system’s planning in recent years. According to the advertised budget, that gap will reach an estimated $2,573, 032 between the revenues under the expenditures. Covered by the boards fund balance, the issue has seen progress between the beginning of the year “budgets” vs end of year “actuals” previously. The board just approved their financial summary for July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020. In that fiscal year, the board budgeted a $3 million gap, but the end of year “actuals” presented said the board actually met their expenditures which were held far lower than budgeted. They ended with a revenue over expenditures of $207,873.
However, looking at last year, the school saw $26,339,574 funded from state sources, which fell short of the expected, budgeted, $28,566,082 funding. This year’s tentative budget is already seeing a decrease to $25,784,011 expected.
The schools total expenditures for FY 2021 is $41,575,332. The total revenue for FY 2021 is $39,002,300.
If nothing changes except costs continuing to increase, Finance Director Trina Penland noted in a 5 year forecast for the board that the school’s fund balance could dip down to $2.3 million. However, Penland pointed out that the notation is a rough estimate assuming nothing changes and the school system does not make attempts to mitigate this like they did in last year’s budget.
Instead, she urged the board that these forecasts are meant to give an idea of the future so that the board does not only focus on the current year at the expense of the future.
The board is expecting to meet in a special called meeting to hear public input on the budget in August before they meet on August 20 to discuss final adoption of the budget.
Alongside the budget, this day will also see final approval of the Board of Education’s Millage Rate.
Downsizing its facilities due to moving offices around, the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners is now looking to sell their building on the square that has been used recently as the Planning and Zoning office.
The property disposal came before the commissioners in a Special Called meeting under an agenda item that encompassed both the “disposal of the property” as well as engaging a real estate agent.
Gilmer Commissioner Chairman Charlie Paris stated that engaging a real estate broker will begin with a bid process to the board to find an agent to use in the process. However, engaging the bid should follow broad language on usage. County Attorney David Clark encouraged this option of specificty to allow the Commissioners options down the road. He stated, “That gives you the option to consider it, but you don’t have to use the agent with the additional piece of property.”
This means that the county could use the agent to sell the Planning and Zoning building, but wouldn’t have to go through the agent for every piece of property that may come up.
Paris also clarified further saying that if they get another piece of property they need to sell, but wish to just auction it off, they could do this. However, if they do wish to go through the real estate agent again, they would not need to complete the bid process again at that time.
Having the bid process set one agent into this position, the county is also looking to only extend the contract by a specific time period. After that time they would need to rebid the services of real estate agent. With that in mind, Clark also suggested the contract would terminate after a year unless the agent was amid a selling process at the time.
The final decision came through two motions, the first came to take bids for a real estate agent to handle disposing of county property while reserving rights to dispose of property in other ways. The second came to dispose of the building previously referred to as the Planning and Zoning building. Both were approved by the two present commissioners, with Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson absent.
Along with the disposal in this meeting, another issue arose that could become a major issue. While the office of the Board of Commissioners is attempting to satisfy requirements for a DOT audit with regards to Gilmer’s Airport Professional Services Agreement. According to Paris, Georgia’s Department of Transportation is going through an audit process.
As such, Gilmer has used grants they have used at the airport from the FAA. Part of those grants cover engineering requirements. The state’s audit saw a request for the master contract with the engineering firm from Gilmer County. Paris said that the county didn’t have a contract in 2015, but the county specified it was to be done under the contract of 2012. However, in 2012, the engineering firm, Croy Engineering, signed the contract and sent it to the county. The county at the time tabled the item to investigate. However, the county never revisited the contract.
With no contract, Gilmer County could be held responsible for reimbursement of all the engineering costs since 2012. Clark explained that the county has tried other options to resolve the issue, but have been rejected. Now, the county will authorize the chairman to sign the contract with a retroactive effective date to satisfy the needs.
The county has been operating under the contract over the years, but has simply not signed the contract.
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County’s Board of Education presented advertising for their 5 year Tax history and a Tentative Millage Rate to seek final approval in August.
Looking back over recent years and comparing to 2020, the digest saw an overall 4.6 percent increase countywide. According to Director of Finance Trina Penland, the county’s exemptions increase by 3 percent as well. Part of the increase came from a senior’s exemption increase of roughly 10 percent.
According to Penland, Gilmer is the only county that has unlimited senior exemptions in the tax digest. But because that exemption is a local exemption, the school still pays taxes to the state on the funds not collected due to the exemption.
The current millage rate sits at 14.248 mills for the Board of Education. As they look at the calculated rollback rate to prevent them from collecting any more that last year, Penland presented the Rollback Rate to the board at 13.963 mills.
If the board does not accept the Rollback Rate, Penland stated they would be collecting an additional $351,000.
Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs presented her recommendation that the board accept the Rollback Rate, and with a motion and second, the board unanimously approved the rate.
Additionally, Board Member Jim Parmer, stated that he appreciated the work that the finance staff and Dr. Downs put in. He went on to say, “Honestly, If we were going to do furlough days, I would say let’s keep our rate. But ya’ll have said you’re not doing that…”
Through additional discussions, Penland stated that the Rollback should collect just over $17 million. But adding in a look at the history, Penland stated, “If you look back at the history. When you look back in 2009, that was before the first recession, the school collected $24.7 million in property tax revenue. We have cut back. We have cut programs, benefits. We have cut everything to be as close as we can on the budget.”
She also noted several rollbacks including one that rolled back more than the recommended rate.
The Rollback Rate will go through the advertisement process and see final approval in August before sending the rate to the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners for their approval alongside their millage rate and implementation into the new tax year.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners discussed their Millage Rate in a Special Meeting this July without one of its members.
Having contracted COVID-19, the board’s third commissioner, Karleen Ferguson, was absent from the meeting for health and safety. The two remaining commissioners discussed accepting the rollback rate versus not accepting it.
Very early, Gilmer Commission Chairman Charlie Paris voiced his opinion to accept the rollback rate saying, “My personal position would be that we should take the rollback rate. It’s not going to hurt us terribly and I don’t think this is the year to be trying…”
Post 1 Commissioner Hubert Parker agreed saying that he was good with the Rollback as well.
However, additional discussions turned to the Bond Millage Rate for the county. With discussions last year on reducing the rate, the Commissioners ultimately decided against it, keeping the 1.5 mills, but promising to revisit the idea in 2020. Now, Parker and Paris began discussions by immediately moving to a debate on whether to reduce it by .25 or .15 mills. Paris noted that work still needs to continue in capital projects and expenditures coming in the Road Department as well. Having the Bond Millage pay off part of the bond debt service allows more SPLOST funds for those expenditures.
Parker offered his opinion on the Bond Millage saying, “I would be fine going with .25.” However, he did mention a desire to look at it again later. Looking at the decreases, Paris said he didn’t have a problem with reducing it by .25 mills to a Bond Millage Rate of 1.25 mills.
The rates were approved by two separate motions as Paris made a motion to approve advertising, it came to accept the Rollback Rate of 6.783 mills. The rate was approved by the two present commissioners.
Then came another motion from Paris to have “the Bond Millage Rate be reduced from 1.5 mills to 1.25 mills.” The rate was approved by the two present commissioners.
Moving forward, the Commissioners are looking for another Special Called meeting towards the end of August to formally adopt the Millage Rate. They have to wait for the Board of Education to adopt their rate in August before the County can formally adopt both rates.
UPDATE – July 26, 2020
According to a social media post by those claiming to be family with the deceased, as well as corroborating comment on FYN, the victim of the hit and run is Teddy Oliver.
While law enforcement is investigating, comments and messages across social media are requesting any citizens who may know anything about the incident to step forward and speak with officials about it.
The Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office hosts a Facebook page and those with information can call the non-emergency number at 706-635-8911.
Original Post – July 25, 2020
ELLIJAY, Ga – Highway 52 East in Ellijay has been shut down tonight, July 25, 2020, in the area near Eastside Grill.
According to the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office, a major accident turned crime occurred earlier tonight when the driver of a vehicle struck a pedestrian and drove off. They have shut down all lanes and have not commented on the current condition of the victim.
At this time the only details available come from a social media post, but FYN is following up with the search for the driver and will make details available when we receive them.
UPDATE – July 25, 2020
According to the statement, the suspect arrested Thursday on the warrant for Rape from Gwinnett County was Christopher Lewis Wallace Ellijay.
UPDATE – July 23, 2020
In a statement on social media, the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that they were assisting Gwinnett County with serving a warrant for Rape to a subject on Appian Way.
The statment says that when units arrived, the subject barricaded himself inside the residence.
The Sheriff’s Office also confirmed that SWAT was involved saying, “While preparing for a tactical solution with assistance from the SWAT Unit from Cherokee Co. Sheriff’s Office, the subject surrendered and was taken into custody without incident.”
Original Post – July 23, 2020
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Several law enforcement vehicles were seen on Highway 52 West in Gilmer County today with citizens questioning the severity of the possible incident as some reports claim SWAT vehicles and Cherokee County Sheriff Deputy vehicles.
FYN has confirmed that Gilmer County Deputies were assisting in serving a Gwinnett County warrant earlier today when a suspect barricaded themself inside of the residence.
It has also been confirmed that Gilmer contacted the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office for assistance. However, Gilmer County Sheriff Stacy Nicholson tells FYN that the situation has been resolved without any major incident as the suspect finally surrendered and was taken into custody.
Reports indicate the suspect will be taken to the Gwinnet County Jail, but official details will come from the Gilmer’s Sheriff’s Office soon. Stay with FYN as new details become available.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer has begun discussions of its return to school in August with details available to push back the starting date for students as well as offering an option for their return and will be making final decisions on details tonight.
Debates have arisen among board members for restrictions and requirements for the return. The school system is set to have part of its students attending a “virtual academy” while others will be attending class in person. Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs spoke this week saying that families could choose how to attend.
Committing to one or the other means dedicating to that form for a semester for high school or 9-week period for Grades K-8, according to Chief Academic Officer Lottie Mitchell.
Another major change coming at the beginning of the year will be moving back classes by four days. This push back, said Downs, is focused on allowing extra time to train and prepare staff for their changes in the coming school year through cleanings, classes, and training for lessons whether face-to-face or through the virtual academy. This will also push the first day of school to a Friday as Dr. Downs said in their July Work-session, “Our staff just seems to prefer to start on Friday so that we learn from Friday, especially when changes are being made.”
She went on to explain that the Friday start also allows teachers to meet students and go through classes and then have two days to make any last minute changes they feel are necessary. Taking the weekend to regroup allows teachers to work in classrooms or perform alterations to plans after that day without having to try and push through a week before they have any large portion of time to achieve this.
Although the board gave approval for this change through board polling, this change of days must be ratified as other decisions are approved tonight, Thursday, June 23, 2020. Yet, Dr. Downs cautioned the board and citizens saying that even this close to class, new information is still coming in requiring new changes from the state. A new state order could completely change the plans that the school system has made.
Returning to class in-person will see changes for students as they see separations by glass or Plexiglas in certain areas supporting social distancing, some hallways in schools will be one way traffic and some will only walk on one side of the hallway in a direction, increasing use of hand sanitizer and hand washing, and reducing numbers of students in a room among others.
The school system, currently, will make decisions on closing schools and when that is needed.
As for usage of masks, situations like school buses will not allow for social distancing needs. As such, the current plans are to require masks for students on buses along with assigned seats. They will also strongly recommend mask usage in classes. To that end, the school system will be giving masks to students and they are also planning on obtaining disposal masks for bus drivers to hand out if a student forgets or loses his or her mask.
The board is also installing water bottle fillers in some schools to combat water fountain usage.
To support the health of staff and students as they return, the board has purchased 5,000 masks, ten additional no-touch thermometers in addition to the ones that nurses already have, 250 gallons of hand sanitizer, and other items like bottles, spray bottles, towels, cleaning equipment, disposal gowns, and face shields.
The board also confirmed updates with their janitorial service, ABM, as for cleaning and requirements for the new needs for cleaning.
Board Member Tom Ocobock questioned the school systems response for students in class who may test positive for COVID-19.
Dr. Downs responded saying that they would not be put into the same virtual academy style as those who opt into it. Instead it will be more similar to distance learning they did in the Spring or make-up studies as with normal years dealing with sickness. Additionally, the school will be utilizing online plannings used in Google Classroom allowing a seamless transition to distance learning and then back into class when they are cleared.
In such a case, Dr. Downs assured the board that the systems had methods in place for contact tracing as well should the need arise.
The board also touched on some other ideas that may or may not be utilized such as rotating using the lunchroom for some while others might eat in classrooms.
Virtual Academy will be an all new program different from the springs distance learning for students. The new program works through Edgenuity (Grades 6-12) and Odysseyware (Grades K-5). The school system has already began pilots with the program in recent years.
While the program has options for Edgenuity teachers to be used, Mitchell said the Gilmer would use their own Gilmer County Teachers as facilitators for the program and to follow up with students as they guide them along.
These facilitators will be able to track student progress and log-ins during the return to class for attendance recording through their Chromebooks as well as viewing students’ notes taken. Additionally, teachers can add, remove, or reorder lessons and features for students as needed.
With Odysseyware, a Teacher Authoring Tool creates lessons, projects, or assessments from scratch and embed media and links within assignments personalizing the lessons as they need.
For those with special needs who return virtually, teachers can adjust grade weights & passing thresholds, read text aloud at different speeds, allow additional attempts on assignments and assessments, adjust the time for assessments, customize course content for remediation, acceleration, and support, and allow students to test out of mastered content.
These options for Virtual Academies are also time flexible as Mitchell said students who may decide or need to get a job can work around the hours and log on at anytime during the day. Dr. Downs said at this time they are considering implementation plans as they might have a teacher teach several lessons in person and then one period of virtual. Additionally, students who fall behind in the Virtual Academy may be asked to return to school in person to recover their grades. Students attending virtual academy will sign contracts to be fully aware of the expectations and responsibilities of the program.
Yet, these plans are still being discussed and should see updates tonight as the board continues weighing options and citizen response. One detail yet unsettled among the board is how to handle students in virtual academy wishing to participate in extracurricular activities. Board Member Ronald Watkins noted his displeasure with everything coming down to last minute decisions, but Dr. Downs explained that they are still getting changes from the Department of Education and are trying to add in final alterations as needed.
Continuing the separation between those attending in-person and those attending online, Dr. Downs said that those opting to go online are not going to get the same experiences as those in class, but the board is attempting to feel its way through the new program accommodating those students whenever and however possible.
For citizens wishing to know more or asking questions, Dr. Downs published a video covering parent concerns as well as the board is now keeping a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) sheet upon their website.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Millage Rate is one of 5 items on the agenda this week during a special called meeting of the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners to be held on Friday, July 24, at 10 a.m.
The other items include the Swimming Pool, Vehicle Financing Documents, a Review of Roles and Responsibilities of the Board of Commissioners, and disposing of Surplus Real Property.
Property taxes and the millage rate are set into the agenda discussing a “Resolution Authorizing the Advertisement of the Rollback Rate.” Set at 6.898 mills last year by adopting the rollback rate, the county went through discussions over both the Millage Rate and the 1.5 mills Bond Rate.
Last year discussion came from then-commissioner Dallas Miller and Citizens Joene DePlancke over the Bond Millage. After refinancing bonds in previous years, Holden said in August of 2019 that the 2020 payment is expected to total just over $4 million. Still, discussions were made about, specifically, about the .5 mill on that bond payment millage rate to cover the payments.
As discussions will move forward with the Millage Rates for County and the Board of Education, who each have their own rates, the county approve its rates and awaits the BOE to set their rate, before final approval of both rates together can come in August, if the county follows the same schedule as previous years.
The swimming pool has been put on hiatus since near the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak as the Commissioners look to see what financial fallout would come from the shutdowns. However, discussions have started up again this month as the Board of Commissioners look for Bid specifications to begin the next step in the project.
The project got as far as the demolition of the old pool before stopping. The commissioners approved finishing that stage before coming to a full halt.
The bid process could start as early as next month with authorizing to advertise, however, to reach that point, obtaining the proper specifications is the current hurdle. Some discussion came during their regular July meeting voicing their disappointment that the designers of the pool came with estimates but are not going to deliver bid specifications. Paris said, “It surprised me that they couldn’t give us those specs…”
Disposing of Real Property is the other new business on the special meeting agenda. Agenda items like this sometimes do not specify a specific property in case multiple properties need to be discussed. However, an earlier copy of the agenda stated disposing of the former Planning and Zoning office as at least one of those properties.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County is amidst recovery from contact and exposures of employees to the COVID-19 virus in the courthouse, with cleaning concluded and new people getting tested daily for the issue.
New details have come from last Friday’s, July 10, 2020, cleaning of the facility as the invoice from Restoration 1 out of Dawsonville shows.
In addition to cleaning the courthouse, the county also cleaned the Road Department office. With both the courthouse and the office together, the cleaning costs totaled $$6,007.81 according to the invoice documents. This came at $5,550.56 for the courthouse facility and $457.25 for the Road Department.
According to the Gilmer County BOC’s Finance Officer, Sandi Holden, payment for the cleaning is coming from the county’s contingency fund, a fund created by the previous commission for, as they said, unseen emergencies.
Additionally, Holden did affirm that the county moved forward with the Road Department in addition to the courthouse as “a spouse of one of the employees tested positive for COVID-19.”
As Public Health works toward Contact Tracing and local facilities are returning to operations, officials are still seeing spikes and increases in total cases as they sit at 257 cases in Gilmer County today.
Georgia’s Public Health Department in the North Georgia Health District is also increasing responses to the virus as they add a whole new testing day for the county. According to Public Information Officer and Risk Communicator Jennifer King, “we just added a new testing day in Gilmer County to our districtwide COVID-19 test schedule… they will now also test on Wednesdays”
This means testing will occur on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, according to King who added, “Please see these two links on our website where I maintain the latest information about testing: Weekly Schedules and North Georgia Locations for Free COVID-19 Testing.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Georgia Department of Public Health, and specifically the North Georgia Health District, is following with the recent spike in cases in Gilmer County and the citizens who have recently been at risk of exposure and those who have tested positive, including one in the courthouse.
In a recent press release, Jennifer King, the Georgia Department of Public Health’s North Georgia Health District Public Information Officer and Risk Communicator, stated, “Public Health continues to track the virus through contact tracing, which means people who test positive for COVID-19 identify others they may have exposed to the virus so that public health contact tracers can determine if those contacts need to be quarantined and tested.”
With guidelines in place, the Courthouses of Gilmer and Fannin County are reopening today, but Public Health is continuing to monitor and look for cases of other exposures whether connected to large gathering or simply contact with a loved one or friend who may be positive in Gilmer or surrounding counties.
According to the statement, Gilmer Branch’s County Nurse Manager, Krystal Sumner, said, “Even residents who are asymptomatic can receive the free testing we offer. Knowing who is carrying the virus helps public health get ahead of transmission and prevent the virus from spreading further. By taking this step and the other recommended protective measures, we can stop the spread of COVID-19 together.”
Gilmer has seen reactions and cancellations in the county due to the recent spike in numbers including Graduation and Superior Courts. Others in the county are returning to previously lessened restrictions in meetings and gatherings.
While the statement says that officials are “concerned the main cause could be the attendance of large gatherings in the county,” they do not specifically point to any one gathering. FYN has reached out today to the Department with questions on what causes or sources their contact tracing numbers point to and is currently awaiting a reply.
For more information from the Department of Public Health, see their full press release from the past weekend below:
Ellijay, GA. – COVID-19 cases took a sharp increase in Gilmer County this past week, and public health officials are concerned the main cause could be the attendance of large gatherings in the county. Anyone who recently attended events such as church revivals or other local large gatherings in the county is encouraged to get tested for COVID-19.
Free COVID-19 testing is provided by the Gilmer County Health Department on Mondays and Fridays at the ETC Pavilion in Ellijay. Residents are to call 1-888-881-1474 to register and make an appointment.
On June 11, the total number of positive cases in the county was 166, including one death. Since then, one additional death occurred, and positive cases increased weekly by five to ten until reaching a total of 190 on July 2.
Most concerning, however, was a sudden spike in numbers so that as of July 9, there were 216 positive cases of COVID-19 in Gilmer County, and today, public health is reporting an additional ten cases in the county.
“That is an increase of 36 cases in just over a week,” said Dr. Zachary Taylor, Health Director of North Georgia Health District 1-2 of the Georgia Department of Public Health, which includes Gilmer County. “Considering the protective measures and proactive precautions against coronavirus that have been readily available and promoted by the CDC and public health, transmission of this virus should be decreasing in our communities, certainly not increasing.”
Health officials strongly urge residents to prevent further spread of the virus by always wearing a mask in public, frequently washing hands or using a hand sanitizer, avoiding large crowds, social distancing away from others by at least six feet, avoiding physical contact when in public by not shaking hands or giving hugs, and staying home and calling a doctor if COVID-19 symptoms appear or if close contact occurred to someone who tested positive for the virus within the past 14 days.
Meanwhile, public health continues to track the virus through contact tracing, which means people who test positive for COVID-19 identify others they may have exposed to the virus so that public health contact tracers can determine if those contacts need to be quarantined and tested.
Additionally, the Gilmer County Health Department is collaborating with the Gilmer County Public Safety and Emergency Management Agency, Gilmer County Family Connections, Gilmer County Schools and several local churches, businesses, and other community partners to educate residents on how to take protective measures against COVID-19. They have utilized several methods and venues to share bilingual materials with the public and have even provided free face masks.
County nurse manager, Krystal Sumner, said, “Even residents who are asymptomatic can receive the free testing we offer. Knowing who is carrying the virus helps public health get ahead of transmission and prevent the virus from spreading further. By taking this step and the other recommended protective measures, we can stop the spread of COVID-19 together.”
Learn more about free COVID-19 testing in North Georgia and the latest updates on how to stop the spread at bit.ly/COVID19-Updates-NorthGA.
UPDATE – Gilmer Traffic Courts cancelled as office operates without Judge
While Gilmer’s Probate Office has reopened without its Judge, many operations are continuing as normal through the clerks and under guidance of the Chief Clerk Tracy Teague. Almost every operation in the courthouse is continuing back on track according to Teague who stated that the office is cancelling this week’s traffic court.
As Chief Clerk, Teague is trained and able to fill in on many operations that would normally require Judge Chastain this week, however, this time as she “fills in” for the Judge does not extend to the court system. Despite that, she did affirm that any permits or applications that citizens may need from the office can be done as usual in this time.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer and Fannin Counties will both have their courthouses reopening today after an order from Chief Judge Brenda Weaver.
The order came over the weekend acknowledging the cleanings and steps taken against the virus spread. With those cleanings done and employees continuing to remain quarantined, the offices are set to resume normal functions today, July 13, 2020.
The order states, “Having found that the deep cleanings have occurred and that the employees have been tested and are quarantining according to Department of Health Guidelines, it is hereby ordered that the Fannin Courthouse and the Gilmer Courthouse will re-open all offices and proceed with regular business hours beginning Monday, July 13, 2020.”
In addition, the Probate Office of Gilmer County has also confirmed that it, too, will be reopening to resume normal operations. Probate Judge Scott Chastain was one of those in the courthouse with exposures and he also followed guidelines reporting a positive test.
The county has been taking steps to increase safety and social distancing in the offices as some are asking people to only allow a certain number of citizens in offices at a time. Restrictions like these are likely to continue as they return to operations.
Despite the return to operations, however, there are continuing cancellations and reschedulings going on. Just as last week in Gilmer County, while the courthouse is open, some offices may stay closed. Additionally, these individual offices are releasing notices such as the District Attorney’s office. The Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office released a statement notifying citizens of cancellations of Superior Court this week.
They said, “Due to the potential infection and continued transmission of the Coronavirus/COVID-19, court cancellations are as follows:
1. Gilmer Superior Court on Tuesday, July 14, 2020 – Civil and Criminal NJ; and
2. Fannin Superior Court on Thursday, July 16, 2020 – Civil and Criminal NJ.
Fannin County is also confirming the reopening of the courthouse, but is urging citizens to contact individual offices and departments for “access protocols.”
As both entities attempt to return to operations, Public Health officials are also paying closer attention to the area. Spikes and increases are causing for many to urge testing for citizens who may think they have been exposed.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – In addition to this weeks announcement of cancelling the prom, Gilmer High School has also announced that they will be cancelling the graduation ceremony scheduled for July 17.
According to a statement from Gilmer High School, “Gilmer County Schools and Gilmer High School have been in contact with the Gilmer County Department of Health and Gilmer County Emergency Management for the past several days to make decisions regarding events scheduled to take place at the high school. Even though all of our events were planned in a manner to keep students and staff safe, we have been advised against holding large group gatherings (those with more than 50 people in attendance) at this time, even if being held outside. We initially planned to have students on the field, seated six-feet apart, and allow only two guests per student to accommodate social distancing requirements in the stands. Due to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in our community, we have been advised by officials to cancel the graduation event scheduled for Friday, July 17th.”
However, Graduation is not the only event being cancelled or having restrictions as sports and other activities to be held in July as students are trying to slowly start returning to school.
The statement said, “With regard to sports on the high school campus, we are following strict guidelines from GHSA with regard to social distancing, hand sanitizing and the sanitizing of equipment. Athletes are screened each day, which includes temperature checks, and their responses are recorded to help with contact tracing. Over the past few days, we have had 13 student athletes, some of whom were in attendance at a community event last week (where several people have tested positive for COVID-19) and others who were identified during the screening process, who are being quarantined and cannot participate in practice for the next 14 days. Two sports, wrestling and cheerleading, have cancelled practice until further notice. We continue to monitor the remaining sports still practicing and are prepared to cancel their practices for 14 days should that be necessary.”
Gilmer High’s Marching band has postponed their “Band Camp” from Monday, July 13, to Monday, July 20. Next week they will work with small groups of students for easier monitoring, and then full Band Camp will begin on July 20th.
The High School said, “It is much easier to monitor small groups of students on a daily basis, than it would have been for us to comply with the necessary guidelines to ensure the safety of more than 400 students at prom, and an additional 600 at graduation.”
They went on to add, “This is not what any of us wanted for our students. We all believe in giving our students the greatest high school experiences possible, but will never risk the health and safety of anyone. We greatly appreciate everyone’s understanding and look forward to being able to have everyone back together soon.”
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – As many are beginning to talk about the possibility of returning to school, some are still attempting to wrap up the previous year.
In Gilmer, part of that process occurred this week as students returned to the buildings to collect left-behind belongings. Planned in April, the Board of Education and Superintendent had the day set in order to offer a better sense of closure to the school year as the virus ended normal classes mid-semester. But as they returned, they were met by some unexpected people.
Gilmer County’s Public Safety offered a statement today saying. “It’s nearly school-time with many preparations underway. Part of those preparations is helping our kids understand the importance of good health practices. Gilmer County Community Paramedicine, with the generosity of Parkside Ellijay Nursing Home, paired together for a fun project this week at our elementary and middle schools.”
The project was to meet students in the schools and hand out face masks and flyers. According to Public Safety, the Community Paramedicine team visited three of our schools across the county supplied with the generous donation of 1,000 face-covering masks donated by Parkside Ellijay, and 1,000 informational flyers in English and Spanish.
The team handed out all the masks and 700 of the flyers to students and parents who arrived over the three-day period to collect their end-of 2019 school year belongings.
Public Safety was grateful for its partners in the endeavor, saying, “Many thanks to Michael Feist, Director & Part-Owner of Parkside Ellijay for the wonderful donation of the face covering masks, and to Dr. Shanna Downs, School Superintendent, for allowing our Community Paramedicine team to conduct this very successful service to our school children.”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County is still finding new information from news of exposures in the Courthouse and offices shutting down, but now, Gilmer High School is responding to the general resurgance of the Coronavirus in Georgia as they officially announce cancelling this year’s prom.
Originally cancelled during the school year as responses and shutdowns were widespread in the spring and the schools were closed, opting for “distance learning” alternatives, the prom was rescheduled in April as Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs announced in a meeting that they would be attempting to hold prom in July to make up for the cancellation.
That date was set for this Friday, July 10, 2020.
Today, the high school released a statement on social media stating that they would be cancelling the make-up day as well. They stated, “We have been in constant communication with local authorities regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and after much discussion and deliberation, we have decided to cancel prom this Friday, July 10. This decision was made with a great amount of information pertaining to potential and confirmed cases in Gilmer County. The cases are on a continual rise due to recent events within the county, and our first, and utmost, concern is, and will always be, the safety of our students and staff.”
In response to being forced to cancel the event, the high school is offering refunds through a linked form that parents and students can use for the school.
The school asks for patience moving forward.
They also commented saying a final decision has not been made at this time regarding graduation. However, they did affirm that a decision would be made in the coming days.
UPDATE: New State Order extends public health guidelines in courts
The state level executive order from Judge Harold D. Melton, as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia, is extending health guidelines and requirements for in person hearings and allowing remote proceedings.
Courts in Georgia have continued to perform essential functions despite the pandemic. The May 11 extension order also encouraged courts to work diligently to address the backlog of pending cases on a case-bycase basis, and the June 12 extension order announced a plan to reimpose as of July 14 many of the deadlines imposed by law on litigants in civil and criminal cases that have been suspended, tolled, or extended since the initial March 14 Order.
As has been the direction since the original Order, all Georgia courts must continue to conduct proceedings, remotely or in-person, in compliance with public health guidance, applicable statutes and court rules, and the requirements of the United States and Georgia Constitutions, including the public’s right of access to judicial proceedings and a criminal defendant’s rights to confrontation and an open courtroom. All courts should continue to use and increase the use of technology to conduct remote judicial proceedings as a safer alternative to in-person proceedings, unless required by law to be in person or unless it is not practicable for technical or other reasons for persons participating in the proceeding to participate remotely. This order further delineates the health precautions required for all in-person judicial proceedings and specifies that courts must adopt operating guidelines consistent with the Georgia Court Reopening Guide and any more specific local public health guidance.
While Gilmer is currently in lock-down for cleaning and sanitizing today, Officials are reportedly set to decide the status of Gilmer’s Courthouse and proceedings for the near future on Monday, July 13, 2020, as they seek more information and potential testing until then.
NORTH GEORGIA – Both Gilmer and Fannin have received a new order entitled “Amended Third Order Extending Declaration of Judicial Emergency” closing and requiring deep cleaning for offices in the courthouses of both counties.
The order, sign by Superior Court Chief Judge Brenda Weaver of the Appalachian Judicial Circuit, states that a number of courthouse employees are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 and are awaiting testing results. Due to this the Chief Judge conferred with Board of Commissioner (BOC) Chairmen from each county and has declared the situation beyond the ability to continue with regular work.
The court has ordered that the counties deep clean and keep closed the following offices:
- Fannin County Superior Court Judge
- Fannin County Juvenile Court Judge
- Fannin County Clerk of Superior and Juvenile Courts
- Fannin County Probate Court
- Fannin County Magistrate Court
- Fannin County District Attorney
- Fannin County CASA
- Gilmer County Superior Court Judge
- Gilmer County Juvenile Court Judge
- Gilmer County Clerk of Superior and Juvenile Courts
- Gilmer County Probate Court
- Gilmer County Magistrate Court
- Gilmer County District Attorney
- Gilmer County Misdemeanor Probation
- Gilmer County CASA
Additionally, Gilmer County has also closed the offices of the Gilmer County Tax Assessor and the Gilmer County Tax Commissioner. These offices are also ordered to perform a deep cleaning and remain closed until further orders are given.
Just as with the previous Judicial Emergency Orders, Remote Videoconference hearings are being utilized and scheduled. The order states that all other provisions of the previous order are still in effect.
This all comes after the announcements of some of Gilmer and Fannin Elected Officials and Courts closing earlier today due to COVID-19 exposures.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Several offices in both Fannin and Gilmer County are closing today as reports indicate one or more employees may have had exposures to the Coronavirus in recent days.
The District Attorney’s Office in both Fannin and Gilmer have closed today. Additionally, Gilmer’s Probate Office has confirmed closing and the Gilmer Board of Commissioners has cancelled its Wednesday morning Work Session citing a “recent spike in Covid-19 cases.”
The Probate Court of Gilmer County issued a statement on Social Media saying, “The Probate Court Office of Gilmer County will be closed effectively immediately and remain closed until further notice.”
FYN has also confirmed that every office of an elected official in Gilmer County has been closed until Monday along with the court systems with the exception of the Sheriff’s Office.
According to County Attorney Lynn Doss and Fannin Magistrate Judge Brian Jones, Fannin County’s Court systems are also shutting down including Superior Court, Magistrate Court, and Probate Court. The closings come “by order of the Chief Judge Brenda Weaver.”
According to Fannin County Commission Chairman Stan Helton, only the second floor of the courthouse is closed and it will reopen on Monday after it has been sanitized.
Despite the offices closing and courts canceling, the Gilmer Courthouse and Fannin Courthouse are both, as a whole, not closed at this time. Citizens may still enter the courthouses.
Reports are coming in that in Gilmer, Sheriff’s Deputies at the security checkpoint in the entrance are informing citizens of the offices and courts closing and are directing visitors accordingly.
Additionally, FYN confirmed that the Gilmer Planning and Zoning Office was closed late last week due to possible exposures of an employee.
Sources tell FYN that at least one of the exposures this week may have been related to a recent church revival held in Gilmer County. However, no cases have been officially confirmed at this time.