Fire Department Budget Amendments changes priorities

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Fire Department is continuing with changes to budget recommendations since last October.

While discussions at that time had former Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett prioritizing a pumper truck higher on the list, the new Public Safety Director Keith Kucera, along with Fire Chief Daniel Kaufman, have urged the Commissioners to reconsider this budget priority.

Instead of the truck, Kucera and Kaufman are asking the Board of Commissioners (BOC) to prioritize the upgrading and replacement of older turnout gear for firefighters. The new gear will be funded from the same money that was set for the truck. However, Board of Commissioner Chairman Charlie Paris states that there is expected to be a difference in the financial allocations. Therefore, an amendment will be needed.

With 30 complete sets of gear, three vendors have been looked at. The cheapest vendor offers Lion Brand gear at $61,705.50.

The department is also looking to replace 28 air packs for the firefighters to transition from 2216 PSI to 4500 PSI. Kaufman said this allows longer work times on scene as well as better compatibility with Ellijay’s Fire Department.

The estimates for the 28 air packs with spare masks and cylinders, along with extras like voice amplifiers and larger batteries, totaled $215,740, according to Kaufman who spoke during the BOC April Meeting.

Kaufman went on to say that the Fire Department wants to get to a point where they may rotate this gear among volunteer stations or other places of need. With this, the department would potentially only be looking to buy ten sets every 3 years instead of making large purchases like they are looking at now.

Additionally, the county Fire Department’s ladder truck failed an inspection with an issue in the turntable at the base of the ladder that allows it to rotate. Kucera stated the truck is from 1986 and it has just “failed over time.”

Due to the age of the truck, Kucera said there is a sole source bid situation for repairs. That bid came in at $39,150. Paris questioned what the cost of replacing the truck completely could total. Kucera and Kaufman both said it would be around $500,000.

While the Commissioners agreed on the severity of the need, allowing Paris and Chief Financial Officer Sandi Holden to look deeper into the budget and find the difference between the originally budgeted pumper truck and the need for the gear, air packs, and ladder truck repair.

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Ethics and Security questioned in Gilmer Administration

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Citizens are questioning the Gilmer County Board of Education this week after reports have surfaced of the involvement of and connections between the school systems Superintendent, Dr. Shanna Downs, and her husband’s, Jeff Downs, career in a company that the school is now engaging to install a security system in the schools.

Jeff Downs

Jeff Downs,  Senior Vice President of Sales

While allegations pointed that Shanna Downs financially benefited from this contract between the school and the company known as Centegix, where sources say Jeff Downs serves and Senior Vice President of Sales.

FYN looked deeper into the contract and Request for Proposals (RFP) process that was headed up by Gilmer Schools Director of Technology John Call. According to hid RFP listed, the criteria of the RFP included:

1. Bidder’s total proposed price
2. Product quality/appropriateness/compatibility/performance
3. Bidder’s qualifications/experience
4. Bidder’s ability to provide support/service
5. Bidder’s warranty/maintenance
6. Proposed product meeting the district’s present needs as well as future needs through
enhancements and upgrades.

Call headed the reviews and RFP process, according to Downs, who said, “When I realized that my husband would likely accept a position with Centegix in November,  I notified the board and I placed our technology director, John Call, in charge of the competitive bidding process for the security system.  I asked that I be left completely out of the process.”

Downs further stated that Call and Stuart Sheriff, Assistant Superintendent, contacted Harbin, Hartley and Hawkins Attorneys at Law on November 12 for legal advice. As they saw no problem after Downs recusal, Downs says she informed the Board of her husband’s potential future employment with Centegix.  She says, “Mr. Call assembled a committee of building level administrators to review and score the responses to the Request for Proposals (RFPs).   Details of that process can be found in our board minutes from December 13, 2018.  Until that process was complete, I stayed unaware of the selection of the product.”

Gilmer County Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs

Downs made one further note on her husband’s involvement saying, “My husband began work with Centegix on December 3rd and will not make any commission off of the purchase.”

The RFP continued under Call and received two proposals, one from Centegix and one from ETC in Ellijay. When questioned as to why only two proposals were received, Call noted that other companies did inquire about the RFP, but never submitted a proposal. Without an official submittal, there is no record of these inquiries and their company’s interests in the request.
The RFP advertisement did reach statewide as Call publicized the request in not only the school’s website, but on the state procurement website as well. According to the Georgia Procurement Registry, they directly emailed 231 contacts over 122 companies about the RFP while also being searchable to any vendors accessing the website.
Call further stated that the full product and network that Centegix offered isn’t easily found in other places. He indicated that Centegix, LLC, together with its parent, 34ED, LLC, and affiliates Kloud-12 and Dooley Education Solutions, has done something that many companies are just beginning to get into.
It isn’t so much any individual technology they have that others don’t, according to Call, but rather the way they “marry the technology together.”
Centegix’s proposal offered an alert button system alongside classroom camera systems that operates on a singular network incorporating a campus-wide CrisisAlert System, classroom cameras, and classroom educational video capabilities. It also provides exact location information through ID Badges that hold the alert button system with configurable presses to notify emergencies on two levels, campus-wide emergencies and local individualized incidents.
ETC’s proposal offered Camera system integration and wearable IneractWear control buttons to initiate camera recording and notifications to administrators for incidents or sever emergencies requiring 911 intervention.
According to Call’s recorded scoresheets filed with Gilmer Schools, the difference between the two proposals came down to only $10,698. However, with a full 1.742 points difference, the scoring was based on the six criteria of the RFP noted earlier.
FYN has also received the individual scorecards of each of the six people on the committee to judge the RFP responses, including Ashley CoatesTiffany Boyette,  Stephanie BurnetteNicole Pike John Call, and  James Jones.
With the final vote having been taken for the security proposals in December, Call presented these results to the Board who accepted Centegix’s proposal and are already well into the installation process in every school except Gilmer Middle School and a partial install in Ellijay Primary.
The school system has decided to move forward with installing the CrisisAlert system buttons as they attach easliy to the drop ceilings and operate on battery. With the ease of removal and moving the system, they intend to transfer this system to the Clear Creek Elementary School when constructed.

Centegix Proposal:

ETC Proposal:

ETC – Alert System – RFP – Additional InformationETC – Alert System – RFP – Additional Information

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Kucera speaks on Public Safety Director position

News, Police & Government

ELLIJAY, Ga. – A surprise even to him, he says, the Board of Commissioners officially announced Keith Kucera as the Public Safety Director of Gilmer County.

FYN caught up with Kucera to ask him how he felt about moving from his months as Interim into the full-term position.

He called it an honor to serve the citizens of the county in this position and looks forward to the coming months as he builds relations between the county and state and other local agencies. Kucera moves into the full term position alongside Daniel Kauffman as the Fire Chief of Gilmer.

Gilmer County Public Safety Director, Keith Kucera

Gilmer County Public Safety Director, Keith Kucera

Kucera retired from military after 25 years of active duty, where he served in the U.S.  Coast Guard, and moved to Ellijay where he says he never expected or looked to become a Director, yet when the opening came, he put forth his name and served in the interim. He lives here with his wife, Pamela.

It is a move that many firefighters seem happy with. As reported in “BOC names full time Public Safety Director and Fire Chief,” many members of emergency services showed up at the commissioners meeting to show support for the direction the BOC was taking in their departments, though they didn’t know Kucera was being named as Director, FYN has come to understand that  it had been internally announced before the meeting that Daniel Kauffman was taking the position of Fire Chief.

Kucera said the show of support “means the world” to him. Having the support of the men and women of the departments, and his family’s support as well, is “second to none. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime, and I look forward to many years to come.”

According to Kucera, their support and the support of the Fire Chief is what will allow him to open up more to the duties of a Public Safety Director and allow the fire department to focus on what they do with a chief who can focus on that as well.

This is something Gilmer Commission Chairman Charlie Paris has said before as he wanted to separate, at least, the fire chief position so as to not have one person pulled into too many directions and possibly detracting from the service offered to the department.

Kucera said, “The Public Safety Division is going to be able to branch out to the other agencies within the county and build more of a coalition-type group within the county to serve the public better as a whole.” Kucera went on to note that some other benefits could include a better chance at obtaining and retaining grants from the federal and state governments as well as combining into a consolidated public safety group in times of need.

Besides the day to day work, Kucera said one of his major projects to tackle as the Public Safety Director is building community relations. He stated, “I continue to pledge my service to the community, to the citizens, and I look forward to meeting every single person I possibly can.”

Throughout the entire time speaking with him, Kucera never mentioned how he wanted to lead the department or the type of leadership he wanted to show. Instead, numerous times, he repeated that he was anxious to continue “serving with” the firefighters and emergency response workers of the county.

Author

BOC names full time Public Safety Director and Fire Chief

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – “Solidarity” was the word used by one fireman who spoke at Thursday’s, March 14, Commissioners Meeting.

Keith Kucera, Public Safety Director of Gilmer County

Keith Kucera, Public Safety Director of Gilmer County

That show of solidarity included 15 members of public safety’s fire and ems divisions as the stood together to tell the BOC that they are happy with the direction and way the Public Safety Department is moving.

To take that one step further, Gilmer County Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris skipped ahead on his agenda to return the favor by officially announcing  Keith Kucera as the full-time Public Safety Director. Kucera has served as interim since February 12, 2019, and now begins his service as the full time Director, leaving the interim title behind.

Kucera also released information to FYN that an official announcement has also been made about the full-time Fire Chief. Kucera was proud to announce Daniel Kauffman will be taking the position as Kucera tells FYN he comes from Ocala, Florida.

Kucera said that Kauffman brings 30 years of fire service experience from Marion County in Florida as a District Chief and a Battalion Chief. He also has a Master’s Degree in Human Resources and a Bachelor’s Degree in Fire Science.

Despite recent issues in the Fire Department, Paris stated to those present that they had no idea how much their public display meant to the Board.

Further, those fire and ems staff present offered standing applause to the announcement of Kucera to the Director position during the meeting.

Author

Gilmer Schools earn 100 on Health Scores

Bobcat's Corner, News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Walk into a restaurant and check the health scores, chances are, you won’t see a lot of 100’s. Sure, you will, hopefully, see a lot of high 90’s scores, but not that elusive 100.

This week, however, the Gilmer County School’s Nutrition Services not only managed to score a 100 in the latest health inspection, but they found that score in every school within the system.

Each of these inspections came within the last two-and-a-half months for Gilmer Schools as Ellijay Primary was inspected on January 11, Ellijay Elementary was inspected on January 17, Mountain View Elementary on February 11, Clear Creek Middle on February 18, Gilmer Middle on February 28, and, finally, Gilmer High inspected on March 8.
While this is not the first time the Gilmer Schools have ever made this accomplishment, it is no less a feat according to Gilmer County Schools Nutrition Director Linda Waters, who said, “I am extremely proud of all of our school nutrition staff for achieving perfect health inspection scores.  It is a difficult challenge, but they work hard daily to maintain the highest food safety standards.”
The staff she praised for their dedication includes 37 employees spread over all six schools. The school systems employ nutrition managers who determine cleaning schedules, ensure proper food and storage temperatures are recorded, and that employees follow all HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) standards. Waters notes that these managers are all ServSafe certified.
ServSafe is a program run by the National Restaurant Association. According to their website:
As the premier provider of educational resources, materials, and programs to help attract and develop a strong industry workforce, ServSafe has been the restaurant industry’s leading association since 1919 and, together with the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation, our goal is to lead America’s restaurant industry into a new era of prosperity, prominence, & participation, enhancing the quality of life for all we serve.
Gilmer County Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs also praised the efforts of Waters and the nutrition staff saying, “We are so proud of the cleanliness and food quality of our schools cafeterias.”
It’s not all focused on the scores, however, as Waters has been reporting increases to student participation in breakfasts in the schools as well as a more positive response to the menu from students since the start of the 2018-19 school year.

Author

Replacement doesn’t mean resolution in Fire Department

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County is still amid disorder this week as Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris confirmed with FYN that the current Gilmer County Interim Fire Chief, Brian Scudder, has left the office.

“We just weren’t on the same page about some things,” said Paris on Thursday as he reiterated the changes he is hoping to see come in the Fire Department of Gilmer County. Scudder is still in the Fire Department but is no longer serving as Interim Chief.

Former Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett

Former Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett

These changes began when former Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett resigned from office in early February. Though originally resigning effective on March 15, Paris said he later had decided that Pritchett’s presence was not coordinating with his plans for the future and made an agreement with Pritchett to pay his original agreement out to March 15, but to remove Pritchett from the county immediately.

Chairman Paris originally wanted to separate the position into three positions including Fire Chief, EMA Director, and Public Safety Director. In Paris’ eyes, the Public Safety Director would have been the Department’s head with managerial responsibilities with EMA Director and Fire Chief serving under him in their areas of expertise with the requirements, technicalities, and skills required in those positions.

However, he settled for two positions instead of three and named Brian Scudder to Interim Fire Chief and Keith Kucera to the Interim Public Safety/EMA Director.

However, in the progressing weeks, conflict and turmoil have arisen in the Fire Department resulting in two internal investigations and several changes in the systems make-up.

Paris states he has had enough with the way things have been in the Fire Department. “There is s a significant amount of turmoil in the Fire Department right now,” says Paris.

Soon after naming the two to the position, an incident at Fire Station 1 occurred with one firefighter finding his bed saturated in water. An investigation ensued immediately into the occurrence. Paris openly admitted that while they did not discover exactly who was behind the act, he felt he did send a message to the department about the changes he wants.

However, the Fire Department’s other investigation went much further as Paris states that on a Friday morning he offered Scudder the position of Fire Chief, Kucera was out of town, so Paris waited until Monday morning to offer the Public Safety Director Position. Paris states that at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, he held a meeting with Tony Pritchett to share his appointments with him.

Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris

Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris

Then, Tuesday morning, Paris received a complaint about Kucera trying to get people to protest the appointment of Scudder to Fire Chief. After meeting with Kucera and interrogating him on the allegations, Paris called in several firefighters that were set to protest the Fire Chief position. Questioning each individually about how and when they found out about Brian Scudder’s appointment which had not been announced yet. The overwhelming response indicated that all but one had learned about the appointments early Monday morning from Tony Pritchett, having found out about the appointments prior to his meeting with Charlie.

Paris tells FYN that the investigation cleared Kucera of any allegations of protest or antagonism in Department. He continued saying that most of the response he has had is positive about Kucera’s appointment.

Moving past the investigations, Paris says he is confident moving forward with his appointment of Keith Kucera to interim Public Safety Director and his new appointment he is announcing of Mike Dempsey to Interim Fire Chief.

At this point, there is still no indication as to who or what is causing instigations in the Fire and EMS, but Paris seemed to indicate that he doesn’t care. He says he is focused on moving forward and buckling down on the departments’ disciplinary actions.

Naming Mike Dempsey as the new interim Fire Chief, Paris says that he has gone about the appointment slightly different as this time, he has taken recommendations from Kucera and references to consider. Part of the consideration Paris had for Dempsey in the interim position is that Dempsey has no consideration or desire for the permanent position.

Author

Venue size concerns revisit BOC

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer is once again in issue with rezonings when considering items this month.

Considerations of wineries, tasting rooms, wedding venues, and lot sizes came to discussion in February’s Commissioner meeting.

The major contentions came when considering a conditional use permit for a “large” wedding venue. The item for A-1 Agricultural with Conditional use for 582 Cinnamon Lane created debate between Public Works Director Jim Smith, Planning and Zoning Director Karen Smith, and County Attorney David Clark as the board sought guidance and information about the issue.

The venue actually came as two items, the board unanimously approve the winery and tasting room in one vote, then discussed the conditional use for the large wedding venue at the same location.

Jim Smith warned the board to consider the county roads when allowing the possibility of more vehicles and traffic of a large venue.

Ultimately, it was Attorney David Clark who noted that the current item was a wedding and events venue as opposed to Large Recreational Venues which expected larger crowds.

Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris noted concerns and calls he had gotten on the issue. He later said in the meeting that he wouldn’t support the larger numbers of over 200 people at the event. However, he indicated he didn’t want to restrict them to less than 100 either.

Smith later raised concerns about the public accessing the venue through Cinnamon Lane, preferring they instead use Old Flat Branch road.

Final approval for the wedding and events venue came with conditions including no more than 200 people, ingress and egress be through Old Flat Branch road, and that expenditures related to it, such a deceleration lanes, be the responsibility of the facility owners at the location.

All three board members voted to approve the conditional use permit.

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Public Safety Interims named

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – According to news reports, Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris has named two Directors as interim in the Public Safety Departments.

Readers will recall when FYN broke the story that Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett had resigned. Current information indicates, however, that instead of directly replacing Pritchett, Paris intends to separate the position of Fire Chief from the Public Safety position.

According to these reports, Brian Scudder will serve as the interim fire chief, and Keith Kucera as the interim public safety director/EMA director.

Stay with FYN as more information becomes available and we follow up on this development.

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