EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – “We are extremely proud to partner with Ellijay Telephone Company to expand broadband access,” said U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Georgia State Director Joyce White as she announced a $4.4 million investment grant into Gilmer County through ETC.
Holding a celebratory ceremony on February 7, 2020, ETC shareholders, administrators, and a group of employees were joined by numerous officials from Georgia’s State Government and the USDA to both announce the award and celebrate the accomplishment.
As a part of the USDA’s ReConnect Pilot Program, ETC’s application over the last year has “persevered,” as said by White during the ceremony. The grant they receive will provide $4.4 million to support the construction of 90 miles of fiber-optic cable infrastructure in Gilmer County.
Jason Smith, COO of ETC, said the service extension is going to be providing “1 Gig Fiber Broadband.” He went on to add, “The total project is estimated at $5.9 million, $4.4 [million] of that will be provided by the grant and almost $1.5 [million] is provided by ETC.”
The program is set to incorporate 2,159 households, two community facilities, and an Educational facility. Additionally, there have been 25 businesses and 24 farms pre-subscribed to the service.
House Speaker David Ralston spoke at the ceremony about the great need for better internet and high-speed broadband connections as the foundation of improvements in education, transportation, and healthcare. He noted key points like telemedicine and farming as specific examples. Ralston threw his support behind the application with a letter of support for ETC during the application process. He said he wanted to salute ETC’s efforts and called the program a part of efforts to revitalize rural Georgia.
State Sen. Steve Gooch also wrote a letter of support for ETC’s application. He spoke at the ceremony of the need for the internet’s infrastructure for industry and economic development as well. Gooch said attracting new businesses and industry are among the first question when companies scout new locations. He said questions about providers, speed, reliability, and hubs are always among the initial questions interested parties would ask.
Gooch also echoed Ralston’s words about education as he shared his experience from his travels around the state hearing from community leaders. He said they told him about families in their communities when kids were sent home with homework to be done online. Parents would have to drive the kids back into town to a library or business with wifi to complete their homework assignments. Gooch said responding to these challenges is easier when private companies partner with the public interests to achieve success. Gooch said, “This is one success story, but we need thousands of others just like it.”
Parts of those challenges include the costs of preliminary and ground-work of projects like this do not compare to the number of houses or facilities reached. ETC’s Jason Smith noted these challenges as he said the estimated costs of this project reach $65,000 per mile. He said, “When you consider that many of our most rural areas have less than five homes per mile, it is easy to see why a grant plays such a vital role in broadband deployment.”
Smith went on to say that the grant award is an early step in the project. With funding, he wants ETC to move forward quickly but said the project will not happen overnight. With an estimated timeline of five years to complete the expansion. However, Smith said that ETC is hoping to reach goals to reduce that time by one year if possible.
The ReConnect Program offers funding options through loans, grants, and combinations of the two in order to facilitate broadband deployment in “areas of rural America that don’t currently have sufficient access to broadband,” according to the USDA’s website and ReConnect Program Informational.
In March 2018, the USDA reports that Congress provided $600 million to them to expand broadband infrastructure and services in Rural America. On December 13, 2018, Secretary Perdue announced the rules of his ReConnect program and the loans and grants involved. They received 146 applications between May 31, 2019, and July 12, 2019, requesting $1.4 billion in total funding.
Additionally, Perdue announced in December 2019 that the USDA will continue ReConnect through another round of applications in 2020 and will fund another $550 million through the program.
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Five new inductees have joined the Gilmer County REACH (Realizing Educational Achievement Can Happen) program this week with the official REACH Signing Ceremony on Tuesday, November 12, 2019.
The ceremony was hosted at Clear Creek Middle School’s media center with special guests Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston and Brad Bryant from the Georgia Student Finance Commission.
The inductees, Sarah Enfinger, Eduardo Gonzalez-Santos, Emma Heaslip, Sandra Pantoja, and David Rafael-Garcia, signed their agreements during the ceremony as did their parents to adhere to the requirements of the agreement and move toward their choices for post-secondary education.
Speaker Ralston said during the ceremony that this year’s students are joining a group of more than 2,400 students in Georgia who have been a part of the program over recent years.
Ralston said, “The REACH program exemplifies what can happen when communities come together and the public and private sectors work hand in hand to support our young people. REACH is also an example of the state’s continuing commitment to supporting our students and public education. Whether it has been fully funding public schools through QBE, paying for school security improvements, or raising teacher salaries, our general assembly continues to invest in education all across the state.”
The REACH signing is a part of Georgia’s program as 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 (2.5 GPA in core courses), behavior, and attendance throughout middle and high school. Scholars who successfully complete the program and graduate from high school are awarded a $10,000 scholarship that can be used at HOPE-eligible institution in Georgia.
Bryant also took a moment to offer special thanks to the school board members and the mentors to these students for the time and effort they put forth to help the students saying the children are the future, but “it’s the adults that serve the children that are the future.”
Another surprise for the day’s events, the students saw a video message from Georgia Governor Brian Kemp congratulating them on the ceremony and their steps toward the future. Kemp said, “Today’s ceremony is the beginning of a journey. Your REACH scholarship puts you in the fast lane on a road to the future of success. I look forward to watching you accelerate into that future.”
See more photos from this event at FYN’s REACH 2019 Photo Album on Facebook.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – “This is the kind of project that will spread prosperity throughout our entire region. It is the kind of skin-in-the-game project that deserves support…” Georgia Speaker of the House, David Ralston praised the CORE Facility in Ellijay who hosted their official ribbon-cutting today.
Nestled just off Maddox Drive on the banks of the Coosawattee River in Ellijay, Georgia, the CORE Facility hosts business offices and incubation locations for entrepreneurs and start-ups in need of an office or workspace without the hassles of long-term investment.
However, the facility’s impact reaches so much farther than the city limits or the county’s borders. Today marked a celebration for the region and for the state. Representatives statewide joined together for this ribbon cutting including Gilmer Commission Chairman Charlie Paris, Gilmer Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson, Pickens Commission Chairman Rob Jones, Fannin Commission Chairman Stan Helton, Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston, State Senator Steve Gooch, State Representative of District 11 Rick Jasperse, Ellijay City Mayor Al Hoyle, Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, and many representatives from the Ellijay and East Ellijay City Councils and Gilmer Board of Education. Efforts from many organizations have led into combined organizations such as the Greater Gilmer Joint Development Authority (JDA) and the Greater Gilmer Community Foundation.
That Foundation was the birthplace of the initiative to build CORE. According to Kent Sanford, Executive Director of the Greater Gilmer JDA and part of the Greater Gilmer Community Foundation, a 14-month birth cycle has finally come to full fruition.
While the celebration was a culmination of efforts so far, it is only the beginning. It is a project that holds great impact on the future, according to Ralston who said, “It will create jobs in our area. The jobs of tomorrow will be possible because of the work that goes on in this building.”
Ralston also dedicated support to the facility as he announced, “Because of the local commitment to the CORE building the State of Georgia, through our OneGeorgia Authority, is awarding $420,000 to this project to be used for Facility purchase and improvement costs. This $420,000 grant is historic, both in terms of its dollar amount and the impact it will have on this project and community.”
Ralston continued speaking about the economic development and job creation in the county before offering the second announcement of the day regarding the Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation, also known as Georgia’s Rural Center.
Ralston stated at the ribbon-cutting, “I am proud to announce that the new North Georgia of the Georgia Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation will be housed right here in Ellijay in this facility. The office will be led by Janet Cochran.”
Ralston’s office later offered a full Press Release on the announcement stating the center serves as a central information and research hub for rural best practices, including community planning, industry-specific assistance and cooperative efforts with community partners. The center was proposed by the House Rural Development Council in 2017 and was created by House Bill 951, which was enacted in 2018.
These announcements were applauded by those present and praised by the Chairman of the Gilmer Chamber, John Marshall, who said, “Mr. Speaker, once again you have proven yourself to be the very epitome of a stalwart and faithful advocate not only to your hometown and all the other communities in these beautiful North Georgia Mountains, but to each and every corner of the state of Georgia.”
President of the Gilmer Chamber, Paige Green also praised the facility as the realization of a dream for the community that has spread to benefit not only one county but something larger that now spans the region.
Today was a celebration of completing the first steps of a larger plan for the facility. Though it is now open, it is only the first phase of that dream. Director Sanford noted last year that the hopes for the facility include two more phases.
In Phase II, the foundation will continue renovation onto the second floor to open up a larger area for education and training in a 1,200 square foot space upstairs.
In Phase III, hopes for the CORE Facility could extend into the schools for things like STEM Classes, STEM Saturdays, or other forays into education connection. Consolidating resources for these could include shared STEM kits or a shared expense for a STEM subscription service involving 3d-printing necessary components. However, specific details into PHASE III have yet to be finalized.
Ultimately, the CORE wants to continue spreading and growing this larger community where possible. Opportunities that may come have yet to be revealed, but one ribbon-cutting today, one celebration, can lead to something bigger than imagining tomorrow.
(The following is a Press Release from the Office of David Ralston, Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives.)
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) today announced that the Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation has opened a North Georgia Office in Ellijay. The office is located in the Collaboration on River’s Edge (CORE) Building, a workplace innovation space and initiative of the Greater Gilmer Community Foundation.
“I am proud to welcome the Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation to Ellijay and look forward to the good work that will be done to further economic opportunity throughout rural Georgia,” said Speaker David Ralston. “This center is a direct result of the work of the House Rural Development Council and our continuing efforts to ensure prosperity is accessible to all Georgians – regardless of zip code.”
The center, also known as Georgia’s Rural Center, has named Janet Cochran to lead the North Georgia Office. Cochran comes to the center with more than a decade of experience as a project manager with the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
“Finding ways to not only maintain but to multiply the economic and cultural vitality present in so many of north Georgia’s small towns and rural communities relies heavily on relationships,” said Dr. David Bridges, Georgia’s Rural Center interim director, “and we know that our presence and personnel there will only improve our ability to facilitate positive outcomes. Janet brings a wealth of experience in managing economic development projects in this region of the state, and we’re excited to have her join our team in this role at the North Georgia Office.”
Headquartered at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, the Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation serves as a central information and research hub for rural best practices, including community planning, industry-specific assistance and cooperative efforts with community partners. The center was proposed by the House Rural Development Council in 2017 and was created by House Bill 951, which was enacted in 2018.
“Promoting a strong business environment that enhances the quality of our community is not just the chamber’s mission in words, it is behind everything we do. The opening of CORE and the Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation is a cornerstone moment in that mission and one that we have worked tirelessly to support and create for many years. I join with our 650 members in celebrating,” remarked John Marshall, Gilmer Chamber Chairman of the Board.
“As chairman of the Greater Gilmer Community Foundation it has been our goal as a private, citizen funded organization to help spur economic growth for our community and region. CORE being the home to the Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation North Georgia office brings our vision to reality. We look forward to continuing to serve our communities for years to come,” said Kent Sanford, Chairman of the Board.
“Working with Speaker of the House David Ralston and the House leadership to bring the Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation North Georgia office to our community will have economic impact to the entire region. We look forward to continuing to work to insure the success of the center and all of our partners within CORE,” remarked Lex Rainey, Greater Gilmer Joint Development Authority Chairman of the Board.
Located in Gilmer County, Ellijay is a thriving rural community in the North Georgia mountains, offering a unique blend of southern hospitality and natural beauty. The area leads Georgia in apple production and is a center for agribusiness and agritourism.
For more information about the Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation, visit http://www.ruralga.org/.
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%
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Charter School System’s chapter of the National FFA Organization (formerly known as the Georgia Future Farmer’s Association) held their banquet honoring those award winners for the year’s work.
The banquet was also visited by Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston who stopped by offering his congratulations to those being honored. Ralston commented on the banquet saying, “When I go to FFA groups, I know among some of the finest of our young people. Young people that are learning great work ethic, learning to prepare for leadership roles in the world, and will assume leadership roles in the world. I want to commend you for all your hard work and for the great job you do. Agriculture, not only here in Gilmer county but in the state, has a great future.”
Ralston went on to note the efforts the state has put into getting the second headquarters of Amazon. He told those present that even with Amazon, agriculture would maintain its position as the number one part of our economy in Georgia.
Continuing the banquet, attendees were treated to a dinner served by FFA members before the honorees were brought on stage. The winners noted in the banquet received their awards in the Career Development Events area and are listed below the slideshow.
Gilmer High FFA (Eighth in Area) Kaytlin Beavers, Abigail Blackwell, Hunter Bowyer, Sam Dillard.
Gilmer High FFA (First in Area; 10th in State) Thomas Chastain.
Thomas received a $500 scholarship from the Georgia EMC for placing first in the Area I competition.
Gilmer High FFA (First in Area; Eighth in State) Thomas Chastain, Eli Cochran, Bryson Mulkey (high individual), Dylan Parker.
Agricultural Technology and Equipment ID
Gilmer High FFA JR (Sixth in Area) Ari Price, Avery Marshall, William McVey, Dilian Ojala.
Clear Creek Middle FFA (Fifth in Area) Jacob Bertolini, Abby Bauer, Cole Parks, Sawyer Wishon.
Gilmer High FFA (First in Area) Mary Lee Callihan, Mallory Kiser, Carter Hice, Nathan Cain (high individual).
Conduct of Chapter Meeting
Gilmer High FFA JR (Third in Area) Alyssa Ashurst, Gavin Berger, Rose Chadwick, Ally Elrod, Sarah Ingle, Lauren Smith, Emma Thurman.
Clear Creek FFA (Second in Area) Octavia Bushey, Macie Wilkes, Tori Reed, Abby Baurer, Natalie Johnson, Morgan Griggs, Mallory Lane.
Gilmer High FFA (First in Sub-Area; Third in Area) Sara Ingle.
Gilmer High FFA JR: (First in Area; Second in State) Rose Chadwick, Coleman James, Arianna Price, Lauren Smith.
Clear Creek Middle FFA (Third in Area; 10th in State) Annalysa Brown, Morgan Griggs, Torri Reed, Octavia Bushey.
Gilmer High FFA SR: (First in Area; Sixth in State) Mary Keener, Joe Leonnig, Shelby Nealey, Elizabeth Stillwell.
Environmental Natural Resources
Gilmer High FFA JR (Second in Area, Eighth in State) Alyssa Ashurst, Issac Bradshaw, Ally Elrod, Heath Stover.
Gilmer High FFA SR (Fourth in Area) Hunter Bowyer, Mary Keener, Blake Ledford, Joseph Leonning.
Extemporaneous Public Speaking
Gilmer High FFA (Fourth in Sub-Area) Stephanie Bailey.
Farm Business Management
Gilmer High FFA (First in Area; Third in state) Bryce Bowen, Grace Henderson, Matt Long, Katie Marick.
Gilmer High FFA JR (Fifth in Area) Andrea Byers, Olivia Lykins, Griselda Perez, Emma Thurman.
Clear Creek Middle FFA (Third in Area) Abby Bauer, Andrew Mooney, Emma Reece, Joshua Taffin.
Gilmer High FFA SR (Fifth in Area) Jalynn Ledford, Abriana Mccollum, Allison Ross, Claire Stanley.
Gilmer High FFA JR (Third in Area) Colby Barnes, Rose Chadwick, Chandler Clayton, Ally Elrod, Isaiah Hopper, Sara Ingle, Clayton Ott, Heath Stover, Emma Thurman.
Clear Creek Middle FFA (Fifth in Area) Samuel Mclaughin, Logan Chadwick, Jacob Jenkins, Hanna Rutledge, Kingston Collier, Sawyer Wishon, Andrew Mooney, Trace Duncan.
Gilmer High FFA SR (Sixth in Area) Brentney Clemmons, Alex Edens, Blake Ledford, Grant Ledford, Joe Leonnig, Nate Mooney, Mason Penland, Elizabeth Stillwell, Caleb Waddell.
Gilmer High FFA JR(First in Area; Fifth in State) Rose Chadwick, Ally Elrod, Alyssa Ashurst, Sara Ingle.
Clear Creek Middle FFA (Fifth in Area) Abby Bauer, Jacob Bertolini, Sawyer Wishon, Imogen Reeves.
Gilmer High FFA SR (Fourth in Area ) Sadie Bryan, Carter Ott, Bryson Smith, Caleb Waddell.
Clear Creek Middle FFA (11th in Area) Jacob Bertolini.
Gilmer High FFA JR (11th in Area) Rose Chadwick, Clayton Chandler, Sean Lewis, Lauren Smith.
Clear Creek Middle FFA (Fourth in Area) Sarrah Mclemore, Jacob Jenkins, Jacob Bertolini, Dacey Motes.
Gilmer High FFA SR (Fifth in Area) Eli Cochran, Colin Reece, Taylor Sellers, Bryson Smith.
Gilmer High FFA (Second in Area; Fifth in State) Samantha Dillard, Mary Keener, Jaylynn Ledford.
Gilmer High FFA JR (Fifth in Area) Isaiah Hopper, Coleman James, Clay Ott.
Gilmer High FFA SR (Second in Area; Sixth in State) Madison Jenkins, Jacob Jones, Billie Marie Sullens.
Gilmer High FFA SR (First in Area; Fourth in State) Stephanie Bailey, Brentney Clemmons, Summer Davis, Stephen Madalo.
Clear Creek Middle FFA (Fourth in Area) Andrew Mooney, Daniela Montes, Jasmine Rafael, Hannah Rutledge.
Gilmer High FFA (First in Area and STATE WINNER) Bryce Bowen, Grace Henderson, Madison Jenkins, Matt Long, Katie Marick, Bryson Smith.
They will represent the state of Georgia at the National FFA Convention this October in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Gilmer High FFA JR (14th in Area) Colby Barnes, Clayton Chandler, Isiah Hopper, Jacob Nelson.
Clear Creek Middle FFA JR(Fifth in Area) Laney Hensley, Emma Reece, Cole Parks, Samuel Mclaughin.
Gilmer High FFA SR (Third in Area) Alex Edens, Jacob Jones, Samuel Parks, Billiemarie Sullens.
Prepared Public Speaking
Gilmer High FFA JR (Fourth in Sub-Area) Ari Price.
Gilmer High FFA SR (Third in Sub-Area) Elizabeth Chesser.
Gilmer High FFA JR (Second in Area; Eighth in State) Issac Bradshaw, Clay Ott, Heath Stover.
Clear Creek Middle FFA (Seventh in Area) Sawyer Wishon, Lilly Penland, Larz Fowler, Jacob Jenkins.
Gilmer High FFA SR(Third in Area) Grant Ledford, Nathan Mooney, Mason Penland.
Also honored at the banquet were this year’s senior class students who were invited to say a few words and what stood as their final meeting of the Gilmer FFA this year. Individually noted, each senior’s plans for post high school follows:
Tyler Cantrell will be attending Nashville Auto Diesel College after he graduates from Gilmer High School. He will be studying to become a diesel mechanic;
Shelby Nealey will be attending the University of North Georgia after she graduates from Gilmer High School. She will be studying to become a registered nurse;
Sara May will be attending the University of North Georgia after she graduates from Gilmer High School. She will be majoring in business administration.
Brentney Clemmons will be attending Young Harris College after she graduates from Gilmer High School. She will be majoring in environmental science.
Grant Ledford will be attending Truett McConnell University after he graduates from Gilmer High School. He is undecided at this time.
Stephanie Bailey will be attending Kennesaw State University after she graduates from Gilmer High School. She will be majoring in international business.
Samuel Parks will be attending the University of North Georgia after he graduates from Gilmer High School. He will be majoring in avian science.
Alex Edens will be attending the University of North Georgia after she graduates from Gilmer High School. She will be majoring in agribusiness.
Joe Leonning will be going to the Naval Academy after he graduates from Gilmer High School. He will be studying to become an aircraft mechanic.
Megan Bird will be attending Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College after she graduates from Gilmer High School. She will be majoring in agricultural education.
Elizabeth Stillwell will be attending Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College after she graduates from Gilmer High School. She will be majoring in agricultural education.
Rachel Waddell will be attending Young Harris College after she graduates from Gilmer High School. She will be majoring in early childhood education.
Bryce Bowen will be attending the University of Georgia after he graduates from Gilmer High School. He will be majoring in pre-med.
Katie Marick will be attending Reinhardt University after she graduates from Gilmer High School. She will be majoring in math education.
Grace Henderson will be attending Oglethorpe University after she graduates from Gilmer High School. She will be majoring in biology/pre-med.
Our 2nd Amendment rights are not up for debate. That’s why I refuse to entertain gun control activists who seek to undermine our safety and compromise the freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. From passing “the most pro-gun bill in state history” to ensuring that students, faculty, and visitors can protect themselves on a college campus, I am proud of my record of defending and expanding our 2nd Amendment Rights.
This election, I am once again endorsed by the NRA – National Rifle Association of America and countless #2A supporters throughout the District. Together, we will stand up for our God-given rights and remain “freedom’s safest place.”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Chamber of Commerce hosted a forum to meet the candidates in Gilmer’s two major elections this year.
First, the Post 2 County Commissioner race saw candidates Karleen Ferguson, Woody Janssen, and Jerry Tuso speak about Gilmer specifically and their own lives and qualifications while 7th District State Representative candidates Rick Day, David Ralston, and Margaret Williamson spoke more generally on Gilmer’s place in the state as a whole and their role as a representative.
Hosted by Gilmer Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Paige Green and Board of Directors Chairman Trent Sanford, the event gave five minutes to each candidate to offer their words to citizens before allowing for time for citizens to mingle and speak face-to-face with them and ask their own questions.
The event kicked off with the candidates for Gilmer County Post 2 Commissioner.
First to speak was Jerry Tuso who offered a few words about his past as a retired air traffic controller and negotiating contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars over his 19 years in the position. As a past chairman of the Gilmer County GOP and eight years of involvement in the party, Tuso stated he has received great support throughout his time from people like Rita Otum and Stephen Aaron among many others. Tuso said he is running for Post 2 because he was raised and told that hard work and studying could make you something. Tuso continued saying, “It wasn’t enough. My father told me, ‘Son, that’s not enough. You’ve got to be a servant as well.’ So, during my entire working career, I have found ways that I can serve. And that’s why I am running, to serve Gilmer County.”
Next to speak was Karleen Ferguson. Ferguson has owned property with her husband in Gilmer County for 20 years, and in 2011, she became the Gilmer County Tourism and Events Coordinator. She noted it as the “funnest job in the world because I got to tell everyone that I knew how wonderful Gilmer County was and encourage them to come visit.” However, Ferguson said she learned in that position the impact of tourism on Gilmer’s community. She noted the Apple Festival’s economic effect on hundreds of families in the county, including the apple growers, but also the families who volunteer and work to earn extra income for their own needs. She connected this with the growing agri-tourism area alongside maximizing the natural resources the county has to offer for both citizens and businesses. Ferguson went on to note the effect that commissioners can have on the economy noting the previous board of Charlie Paris, Dallas Miller, and Travis Crouch and their efforts to replace old systems and catching up their departments to maintain the county. She stated, “We are headed in the right direction, and my intention as your county commissioner is to continue the direction that these gentlemen have been leading us in. I am naturally a problem solver … I am a great team player. I have a passion to protect the history and culture of this community as we grow in a qualitative way.”
The final candidate to speak was Woody Janssen. Living in the county for 12 years, he got out of his major corporate past in national accounts management to settle down locally in Ellijay, where he started a river tubing business. In business since 2009, Janssen said he has been affected by and benefited from what the Board of Commissioners and the Gilmer Chamber have accomplished. Growing out of the recession, he spoke about the growth of the county and his business’ successes in bringing people to the county. It was something he said he wanted to continue in the county. Being so involved in the small business market, Janssen said he hoped to deregulate the county’s small businesses to further expand their growth. Janssen said, “That’s something I’d like to see happen, and I think I can help everybody out. Everybody has done a phenomenal job here locally. I’d like to see less regulation and let’s utilize what we already have.”
With that, the night’s events turned towards the District 7 State Representative election.
First to speak was Rick Day. Running as a Democrat, Day said he hoped citizens were interested in finding out who he was as he came out of nowhere. Day told a story about a job he took on an oil field in central Texas. He said he showed up for work and ran into immediate troubles as the vast majority of his coworkers were Hispanic and did not speak English. Day continued his story saying he was working in his combat boots from his time in the military. The boots began melting in the chemicals. Day said he did not know what to do, feeling alone with boots melting and no way to reach out to family or friends. It was then that his coworkers bought him a new pair of boots simply saying, “Pay it forward.”
It was a touching moment, said Day, who added he rides his motorcycle through our district and sees pockets of poverty, noting 51 percent of this district is employed, meaning that 49 percent are unemployed. With one half of the district “carrying the weight” for the other half, he could only ask how it could happen. Day said, “We are supposed to have leadership in Atlanta. For 10 years, the leadership has gone unchallenged. For 27 years, one person has had the power and authority to make this the number one district in the state … As beautiful as we are, behind the beauty, behind the cake of make-up, there is poverty. There is addiction. There is a quiet desperation.”
It is the quiet desperation that Day said he wants to address. He wants to represent them and increase the economy and growth for all those in the county to answer the “quiet desperation.” Day said the way he intends to pay for that growth and that answer is by adopting the Colorado approach by legalizing cannabis. Day likened the agricultural growth in our region with vineyards to a bridge, saying the next step with cannabis is a massive economic impact and job growth waiting to happen in our region.
Second to speak was Margaret Williamson. Williamson’s background comes from engineering, marketing, and business administration. However, it was her time at home with her children and supporting her husband that Williamson said allowed her the time to become more active in volunteering in the community. This time in our community is what she said gives her the “pulse of the things that are going on in District 7.” She told a story about visiting Abby’s, a local business, for ice cream and frozen yogurt with her grandchildren. As she sat watching them pile as many sprinkles on their ice cream as they could, Williamson said she realized that was the biggest issue for them. She asked herself what their future in our district was?
She commended the Chamber of Commerce in their efforts as well as the agricultural community as the mainstays of our economy. Growing now into vineyards and tourism exemplifies the growth the community has seen. She also noted the commissioners’ efforts in controlling and growing the economy under an annual $4.4 million debt from past irresponsibilities, a debt obligation stretching to 2032. Williamson said, “Our leadership claims that we are the number one state to do business in. So, let’s capitalize on that here in our district. We have more than other parts of Georgia to offer.”
Utilizing our resources, Williamson said we have enough to attract more of smaller, low impact businesses that offer better-paying jobs with advancement. She went on to note that she is running for the position to offer real representation from someone who cares, will work for the people, and will be honest about legislation and how it will affect the people. Williamson said she wants to change the office to be more present in the district besides just for “photo ops” as well as adding a weekly event in the district during session so that citizens can speak to her about legislation and concerns in the state.
The final candidate to speak was Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston. Ralston was born and raised in Gilmer County where he graduated high school. Ralston said it was the community’s help that achieved his successes like $550,000 for the “long overdue completion” of the Clear Creek Ball Fields, $150,000 for the Gilmer County Playhouse, $310,000 for equipping the Gilmer Canning Plant, $250,000 for repairs and renovations to the Gilmer County Library, $283,000 in state funds for improvements to the River Park, and $1,2 million for expansion of the Gilmer County Water System.
Ralston went on to say, “Yes, that is your money, but it was your money that was not coming back to Gilmer County until the last few years. It was going to Atlanta, and it was going to south Georgia. And it was going all over the state, except here.” He also noted that the state has reacted to the change and growth of new industries like wine as well as responses like the hiring of a “viticulturist” so that local wineries don’t have to wait for a professional to come to Georgia from other states to “monitor the effects of weather and disease on grapes.”
Ralston also noted the recent legislative session as the most successful in recent memory. The first cut to the state income tax in history, the ending of austerity cuts to local education in Georgia, and the first reform to Georgia’s adoption law in 30 years were the major points that he utilized to exemplify that success. Ralston noted that despite the successes, there is more work to be done.