ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County is celebrating a five-year-long project completion today with the opening of the Downtown Welcome Center in Ellijay, Georgia.
A new branch for the Chamber and a “needed presence” downtown according to community leaders like Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris and Gilmer Chamber President Paige Green, this new building will work across town from the Chamber home office and welcome center on Craig Street, just off of Highway 515 between the Waffle House and Advance Auto Parts.
Today’s celebration marks the completion of the preparations and renovations, according to Green, who said the day also serves as the beginning of the Chamber’s return to downtown. A “homecoming” of sorts as the Chamber has been in the Watkins House before, located on the downtown square next to the courthouse.
Green said it wasn’t only the Chamber’s efforts, but a collective involving the Chamber, the Board of Commissioners, and State Legislative involvement from Georgia Speaker of the House of Representatives David Ralston. This alliance’s dedication has pushed the project across the year’s to come to today’s fruition.
While that dedication has stretched five years since conversations first began about the Chamber re-opening the Watkins House as a Welcome Center, Green noted that the Board of Directors’ recent Chairman Trent Sanford and current Chairman John Marshall have made the major push through these last two years to begin and finish the actual renovations on the building.
As a part of the Chamber’s return to downtown, Green said publicly that the Chamber is planning more downtown events through their new center and extended hours. She stated, “We do intend to be open Wednesday through Saturday. We want to be a leader in hoping that our merchants will join with us in opening until six or seven o’clock to greet our guests on the weekends as well.”
Green went on to say that the Downtown Center will also be opened for meeting space needs, or for those visitors who simply need a place to sit and rest. She wants the Downtown Welcome Center to be open in this sense for both tourists and locals.
The celebration also saw visits from each of the Gilmer County Commissioners, Chairman Charlie Paris and Post Commissioners Dallas Miller and Karleen Ferguson, as well as Speaker Ralston. Paris offered his thanks to Ralston as well saying that without his help, the community might still be waiting for a downtown center.
Paris spoke about the many “dominoes” that needed to fall in order to accomplish what they have. From relocating the Planning and Zoning Office on the other side of the square to needing help from the Department of Transportation and Ralston for logistics. Paris praised the Chamber and community volunteers and merchants who were integral in making the Welcome Center look as amazing as it does now.
Ralston also offered a few words as he congratulated the county on the facility. He spoke about the history of the Watkins House and its journey through generations and his personal memories of hanging out at the courthouse and walking past the Watkins House everyday after school. Ralston went on to note the significance of the statement the Chamber is making to the citizens of Ellijay and the investment they are making in the community.
However, the day held more meaning than most understood, as they sipped wine from local vineyards and snacked of food from local restaurants, one family shared a moment around a special picture as former Chamber Director Brenda Davis, the lady in the picture, returned to her former offices and joined the celebrations of the changes and growth the building has seen since her last days in it.
The photo, taken in the early 90’s according to Davis. She said it feels good to be back in the building as she pointed out the meetings she held in the large front room and secretary’s office in the room with her photo. She recalled how here entire family got recruited to “volunteer” for events and needs when she held the office and the Welcome Center was there. She chuckled as she pointed out she had an intern, at the time, named Sandy Ott. Now working for University of North Georgia and its expansion campus, Davis recalls her working for the Gilmer Chamber stuffing fliers and mailers for the Chamber.
Davis also recalled a special memory at the Watkins House as they prepared for the Olympics in Atlanta. Davis said it was two years prior and Gilmer was hosting visitors from all over the world. They had received one foreign visitor whose interpreter was not available. He sat on the square as C Lloyd Smith began speaking with him and trying to make him happy with his visit despite the lack of a translator. Davis recalls Smith trying so hard to make this visitor feel welcome despite the major hurdle of language.
Memories like this are built into the bricks of the Watkins House. It seems anyone who lived or worked in Ellijay at the time has some memory tied to the building. As the Chamber returns to its former home, employees, citizens, and even those who no longer live in the county, will return with them to revisit old times, old memories, and tie them together with a new gateway in our community and new visitors creating new memories.
Chairman of the Gilmer Chamber’s Board of Directors, John Marshall offered his thanks for the legacy and the generosity that the Watkins’ family showed years ago when they had donated the building for the public good. Marshall stated, “It is altogether fitting and appropriate that the formerly private residence of this pioneer and progressive family has been transformed into a place to welcome the public.”
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Education celebrated on Friday, October 19, to welcome its six new students into the Gilmer County REACH (Realizing Educational Achievement Can Happen) Scholars Program.
The six 8th graders were hosted at Clear Creek Middle School with a ceremony for their signing of the program agreement in the presence of the Gilmer County Charter School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston, and Chris Green of the Georgia Student Finance Commission.
The six students included Naydelin Ajiataz-Arreaga, Ben Becerra, Emma Bell, Annalysa Brown, Candelaria Raymundo-Bautista, and Alba Monraga-Telles. Each student celebrated the day with family members and member of the community in concerted agreement of support and encouragement for their years in high school and their plans beyond.
REACH Georiga is a needs-based scholarship that begins in 8th grade. REACH Scholars are paired with a mentor and an academic coach throughout high school. Scholars must maintain good grades with a 2.5 GPA in core courses, good behavior, and good attendance throughout their remaining middle school and high school years.
Scholars who successfully complete the program and graduate from high school are awarded a $10,000 scholarship that can be used at HOPE-eligible institutions in Georgia.
Ralston praised the commitment of the students and schools in this effort saying, “If Georgia is to continue being the envy of the nation, if we are to going to continue to be the No. 1 state in the nation in which to do business, we’ve got to also lead in preparing our young people for success in college and in their careers.”
He continued to thank the students and schools for their work in the program saying the ceremony reaffirmed the commitment to education and seeing every student succeed. He also noted the states full funding for Georgia’s QBE (Quality Basic Education) program and increases in the state budget for securing our schools. He also spoke to the student’s futures noting the state’s financial contributions to the new campus. “A dream come true,” as Ralston called it during their groundbreaking ceremony according to UNG.
Green added to the sentiment as he noted the HOPE Scholarship program has already awarded over $10 billion to over 1.8 million students in its 25 years. As the REACH program follows those eligible institutions, Green asserted the commission’s efforts to spread the program to every school in the state. Congratulating Gilmer’s Scholars on their signing ceremony, he said he was proud to partner with the schools as the commission pursues its mission to help every Georgian to access post-secondary education.
Make sure to check out more photos of the signing ceremony at FYN’s Facebook Photo Album.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Mountain View Elementary (MVE) school hosted the Georgia Speaker of the House, Rep. David Ralston, on Thursday, October 4, as part of the Georgia Pre-k Week program.
Originally launched in 1992, Georgia Pre-K is a lottery-funded program serving four-year-olds in the state regardless of parental income. After almost losing the program to cuts in 2010, the Pre-K Week celebration was created to emphasize the importance of quality early childhood education by providing opportunities for leaders to engage with pre-k classrooms in their local communities.
Ralston’s visit came to MVE in its second year of the return to pre-school classes at their location. Visiting both pre-k classrooms, he read Behind the Little Red Door in Katlin Johnston’s class and Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons in Gina Brock’s class.
Having previously visited Ellijay Primary school year’s ago, his return to the new location is made possibly by Gilmer County’s L4GA Grant providing supplemental literacy funds to the education system. A part of the grant, the “Birth-to-5 piece,” is the major part of increasing literacy and putting books into the hands of kids at home. By extensions, educators hope to build the language skills and development for not only those children, but also to other younger children in the household as well.
Gilmer’s Pre-K Director Katrina Kingsley told FYN this is usually an annual event to host lawmaker’s in our schools and allow them firsthand knowledge of what’s going on in these classrooms. Kingsley asserted the importance of programs like this as it not only educates lawmakers on our schools, but the grant and program allow pre-k teachers to affect even more students. Just as the body needs food and nourishment, Kingsley said these kids need “nourishment for the brain.
Check out more photos of the event at FYN’s Facebook Page.
ELLIJAY, Ga – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners are moving forward with plans to seek state recognition of the school system’s major success in the wrestling world with a proclamation of Gilmer as the State Wrestling Capital.
Parents and Coaches filled the Commissioner’s conference room on Wednesday, September 12, to ask the board for a sign at the county line claiming Gilmer as the wrestling capital of the state in honor of the 17 state titles the county has brought home in the sport.
Coach Mark Waddell spoke first for citizens in the work session saying that what Gilmer has accomplished is “pretty unprecedented.” Noting the 17 team state titles, he said that these were only the team’s titles, not individuals.
As each student practices and becomes part of the team, several parents noted in the work session that their kids have become entirely different people. From the discipline to the camaraderie and the inclusion of faith into the program, many of those present threw support behind the idea, lauding the coaches who have done so much and pushed these athletes to accomplish even more.
One parent even said, “They carry themselves differently.” The changes the students go through during the program was constantly repeated emphasizing its importance to them.
Waddell asked for the support of the Commissioners in placing a sign to highlight the 17 combined titles. He noted that part of the success is that it is a singular program. It doesn’t individualize the middle school, the youth, and the high school. With the whole program on track to a singular vision, the success follows with the students accomplishing everything they can.
Coach Sam Snider also spoke about the program’s state recognition sharing stories about the numerous times that Speaker David Ralston brought Gilmer Wrestling to the capital to highlight their championships. Students from Gilmer are spreading across the country, Snider pointed to those who wrestle on scholarships in college and others who use what the program teaches to further their careers in other areas.
Honoring their success, these and other coaches want to highlight the students with a sign acknowledging them. As Snider said, “A sign that says Gilmer County has accomplished this rewards success.”
Coaches weren’t the only ones pushing for recognition of these students as several parents were present at the Work Session. Some spoke of the program’s influence, but Jim Fox emotionally recalled one of the parades they held for winning the state championship, “The memory I have is right across the square during the parade. People were coming out on the sidewalks from the different stores. And out of the city barbershop comes a man with shaving cream on half of his face and a bib trailing behind him… We were escorting all the trucks down the road and I got a view of the sunrise, the flags, and people cheering and wondering what was going on. They were coming out of the store saying, ‘Why is traffic stopped?'”
Fox continued saying that they were explaining that they were celebrating the young people involved in the state wrestling title when he was asked, “Gilmer County won a state wrestling title?”
Fox says he replied, “No, they won two.”
No less emotion came to the Commissioners Regular Meeting when coaches returned with part of the wrestling team. This time, though, it wasn’t parents or coaches to share what the program meant. It was a wrestler, Thomas Chastain, who stood before the Commissioners saying, “It helps everybody grow as a team. Most people don’t think wrestling is a team sport, but it is because you all have to work together to get a team score to get first. Not just one person can get first in duals.”
Addressing the request for a sign calling Gilmer the capital, Post Commissioner Travis Crouch said the state would only give the county one state-level recognized “capital” sign. Though that didn’t stop the board from planning to seek state-level recognition without the sign.
Additionally, Crouch brought up an older discussion that the county seek a county-owned sign at the line recognizing the Wrestling Capital among other things.
Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris noted that an electronic sign of substantially larger size than requested was something the county could feasibly look at next year as they move forward seeking the state’s recognition as well. Engaging in talks with Speaker Ralston, they hope to have the item in the legislative session early next year.
In the last few moments of discussion during their regular meeting, one of the coaches offered his deepest thanks to the commissioners for listening and for what they do.
Paris responded by saying, “This is not so much something that we are doing as it is something that ya’ll have earned.”
And with that, an unanimous decision was made to move forward with both options.
Blue Ridge, Ga. – Many words were used to describe Rick Day as he exited the Fannin County Democratic meeting on July 2: enthusiastic, informed, entertaining, and passionate.
Day, a 62 year old veteran, is the first from the Democratic party to ever challenge the Speaker of the House, David Ralston, for the seat of Georgia House of Representatives District 7.
One key issue of Day’s platform and arguably one that he shows the most passion for is his pro-cannabis stance and the benefits it could bring to North Georgia.
“Somewhere in the 70’s I discovered cannabis, marijuana, and it has been a lifelong love affair with Mary Jane,” Day said about his position.
According to Day, almost 700,000 people have been arrested for minor marijuana possession in Georgia since Ralston’s election to the seat of District 7 in 2002.
“This man is so powerful he could have changed this law,” Day said explaining his take on Ralston’s record. “He only cares about the for-profit prisons that lobby him.”
Day would like to see Georgia move beyond the limited laws passed recently in the state that increased medical marijuana use and see cannabis legalized for recreational use as well.
Stating statistics, Day said that approximately 85 percent of Georgians are in favor of medical marijuana, 70 percent of Republicans are in favor, and 65 percent of Georgians favor cannabis oil.
“If we wait another 10 years, the crops are not going to be worth anything near what it was because it’s going to be so common,” Day spoke of the economic impact of ending the war on marijuana.
Wanting to see both marijuana and hemp become major cash crops for the state of Georgia, Day spoke of the increased tax revenue that this legislation, if passed, would create; up to 1 billion in increased revenue. Day would like to see all citizens of North Georgia benefit from this wealth by using the new revenue to eliminate or dramatically decrease property taxes.
“Thousands of jobs, good, well paying jobs,” Day expanded on the benefits of this move. “Develop the area and work with it, so that it becomes part of our identity without overtaking us.”
“My vision is to turn this (North Georgia) into the Napa Valley of cannabis,” Day enthusiastically spoke of his hope.
Acknowledging other issues facing our area Day said, “There is a growing issue with lack of affordable housing in the district.”
With no shortage of half million dollar homes, Day says that it is very hard to find homes in the $150,000 range where there is an increasingly growing demand.
Offering grants and incentives for builders to construct these more affordable homes is a possible solution that Day sees on this issue.
When it comes to his Republican opponent, Day does not mince words: “Ralston is a con. A bought and paid for conservative. Conservatives are no longer the fiscal stewards they once were or ever represented themselves to be.”
Accusing Ralston of catering to the highest bidder, Day pointed out Ralston’s $400,000 yearly pension and using his position to get his son a lobbying job: “He’s their man. He’s not our man anymore.”
As for Ralston’s impact on his district, Day shared his thoughts on that as well. According to Day, Ralston is a man who holds a position of power in the state of Georgia: “Arguably the most powerful because he’s not tenured with term limits like the governor is, and he can’t even get us one manufacturing center up here. He’s done nothing for this district.”
“I can’t out spend David Ralston. He’s already got $1,000,000 in corporate money in the bank,” Day elaborated on his campaign plans. “I can’t make a lot of promises. I won’t have a lot of political power, but I ain’t David Ralston and I will never be that man.”
Day says that his political platform is simple. Having been shown a kindness when he was a young man, his philosophy is to pay it forward. His litmus test on every issue is “Is this going to be good for our kids? Is this going to be good for our grand-kids?”.
“I oppose the things that are not, and I embrace the things that are good,” Day said of this philosophy.
“I believe in myself and I want you to too,” Day spoke to those gathered to hear his message. “I’m done watching (politics). Now is the time for action. Now is the time to bring David Ralston home.”
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*These election results are unofficial until being certified by the Secretary of State’s office.
2018 Gilmer County Primary Election Results
Gilmer County Post 2 Commissioner
Karleen Ferguson (R) – Totals – 1,677 votes at 61.27%
Woody Janssen (R) – Totals – 359 votes at 13.12%
Jerry Tuso (R) – Totals – 701 votes at 25.61%
Danny Hall officially withdrew from the election race. An official comment from the elections representatives in Gilmer stated that while they did post notices as to his withdrawal at polling sites, his name did appear on the ballot. As such, Hall received votes during the election. However, the representatives did confirm that they had spoken with officials at the state level and were instructed not to count his votes as part of the process. This count stands with the three candidates at their current percentage of the votes counted. FYN has requested the total votes cast for Hall, but have not received them at this time.
Gilmer County Commission Chairman
Charlie Paris (R) – Totals – 2995 votes at 100.0%
Gilmer County Board of Education Post 4 Seat
Michael Bramlett – 3,424 votes at 99.22%
27 Write-in votes
Gilmer County Board of Education Post 5 Seat
Ronald Watkins – 3,429 votes at 99.22%
27 Write-in Votes
Georgia House of Representative District 7
David Ralston (R) – 2,757 votes at 72.23%
Margaret Williamson (R) – Totals – 1,060 votes at 27.77%
Rick Day (D) – Totals – 458 votes at 100.0%
2018 Georgia Primary Election Results
Casey Cagle (R) – 1,471 votes at 38.46%
Hunter Hill (R) – 708 votes at 18.51%
Brian Kemp (R) – 1,065 votes at 27.84%
Clay Tippins (R) – 383 votes at 10.01%
Michael Williams (R) – 198 votes at 5.18%
Stacey Abrams (D) – 296 votes at 53.05%
Stacey Evans (D) – 262 votes at 46.95%
LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR CANDIDATES:
Geoff Duncan (R) – 838 votes at 24.72%
Rick Jeffares (R) – 940 votes at 27.73%
David Shafer (R) – 1,612 votes at 47.55%
Sarah Riggs Amico (D) – 402 votes at 76.57%
Triana Arnold James (D) – 123 votes at 23.43%
SECRETARY OF STATE CANDIDATES:
David Belle Isle (R) – 965 votes at 28.98%
Buzz Brockway (R) – 465 votes at 13.96%
Josh McKoon (R) – 574 votes at 17.24%
Brad Raffensperger (R) – 1,326 votes at 39.82%
John Barrow (D) – 293 votes at 56.13%
Dee Dawkins-Haigler (D) – 159 votes at 30.46%
R.J. Hadley (D) – 70 votes at 13.41%
INSURANCE COMMISSIONER CANDIDATES:
Jim Beck (R) – 2,062 votes at 61.59%
Jay Florence (R) – 699 votes at 20.88%
Tracy Jordan (R) – 587 votes at 17.53%
PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSIONER CANDIDATES:
District 3 –
Chuck Eaton (R) – 2951 votes at 100.0%
Lindy Miller (D) – 342 votes at 68.13%
John Noel (D) – 119 votes at 23.71%
Johnny White (D) – 41 votes at 8.17%
District 5 –
John Hitchins III (R) – 1,557 votes at 47.54%
Tricia Pridemore (R) – 1,718 votes at 52.46%
Dawn Randolph (D) – 347 votes at 71.40%
Doug Stoner (D) – 139 votes at 28.60%