Gilmer to contract compaction testing in developments

News
project, compaction

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer is moving forward with contracting out some testing and inspections for compaction with regards the subdivisions coming into the county.

According to a presentation from Planning and Zoning Director Karen Henson, a quote was requested to have Geo-Hydro Engineers, Inc. take over “compaction testing and drainage inspections on new subdivisions.”

Currently, the county uses the Road Department for compaction testing.

Henson’s proposal using Geo-Hydro Engineers, Inc. has their quote at $500 per inspection for up to three hours worth of time spent. Additional time required would charge at $90 an hour. Henson noted that the county charges per lot fees for inspections already and could transfer the costs into those fees. She noted that she needed to look deeper to see if the already established fees could cover extra trips if the developers wanted to do sections at a time. She also noted other situations with multiple roads or some small roads.

Her initial proposal wanted to add invoicing to developers should the standard fee not cover the costs of inspections.

According to Public Works Director Jim Smith who was the Planning and Zoning Director until 2010, the department contracted an engineering firm under his leadership and charged a fee to cover an engineer coming from the firm to perform the compaction testing. Smith also noted that the same firm did inspections for the Road Department.

Smith went on to say that his opinion would be that the firm should work for the county in these inspections. However, passing on the costs through fees would mean that the developer covers the costs of the inspections rather than the county’s taxpayers.

Since approved in the meeting, the process will see the engineer providing a report to the county from the inspections. Smith said he would not sign off on the projects without an acceptable inspection.

With advice from County Attorney David Clark, the indication is that a final approval could not be given until the inspection fees are completed. This was confirmed as Post Commissioner Hubert Parker clarified with Henson that the county will be paying the firm, but the funds would come directly from the fees imposed on the developers.

Geo-Hydro Engineers has been used by Gilmer County for its courthouse and both parking lots in addition to three airport projects according to Smith.

The Board of Commissioners also discussed utilizing the contracted firm on the pool project for filling in the pool and testing the compaction of pool before the bid project begins to construct the new pool. However, costs could require the fill-in to be bid out if it is higher than $50,000, according to Clark.

A pound and a half of Meth found in single car traffic stop

News
Methamphetamine

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office issued a statement on social media today reporting a single traffic stop. A normal traffic stop is nothing of import except that this stop resulted in the seizure of 1.69 pounds of methamphetamine.

Methamphetamine

Corporal Parks of the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office arrested two on September 9, 2021, after finding 1.69 pounds of methamphetamine in the vehicle of a traffic stop.

For reference, federal guidelines referencing the United States Sentencing Commission dictate a minimum sentence of 10 years for trafficking in 50 grams of Meth. According to the Sheriff’s report, the driver of the vehicle, Ethan Matthew Leonard, 17, and passenger, Anthony Stephen Ray, 20, were in possession of over 15 times that amount.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, “Corporal F. Parks initiated a traffic stop on a vehicle for failure to maintain lane and a window tint violation. Upon contact with the occupants in the car, Corporal Parks determined the driver was under the influence of marijuana.”

The United States Department of Justice states that Crystal Methamphetamine is a Schedule II substance under the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule II drugs, which include cocaine and PCP, have a high potential for abuse. Gilmer Sheriff Stacy Nicholson has also offered reports on the influx of and arrests made in relation to large amounts of drugs in the county. In July of 2021, he delivered a report to the media indicating a number of arrests made in the first half of the year.

Methamphetamine

A bag of of 1.69 pounds of methamphetamine was seized along with THC oil in a traffic stop, resulting in charges including intent to distribute.

Going from what information the Sheriff’s Office delivered in those arrests, only one comes close. A July 19, 2021, arrest for 628 grams (1.38 pounds) of Meth.

With this arrest, it becomes the largest amount out of those released to the public. The Sheriff’s Office stated that when Parks questioned the two in the vehicle, both occupants had conflicting stories and timelines of their travels.

The office stated, “The passenger provided Corporal Parks with a THC oil vape which gave probable cause to search the vehicle. During the search, approximately 763 grams (1.69 pounds) of methamphetamine was located under the back seat.”

Arrested on September 9, 2021, Ethan Matthew Leonard and Anthony Stephen Ray, both from Franklin, North Carolina, were arrested and charged with Possession with Intent to Distribute, Trafficking Methamphetamine, Possession of Schedule 1 Drug (THC oil), and Georgia window tint violation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BOE approves plan for temporary “retention pay”

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retention

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Utilizing CARES Act funds, a plan was presented this month for the Board of Education to institute “Retention Pay” for classified employees who make less than $12 per hour.

According to Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley, the CFO and Director of Finance, Trina Penland presented the idea originally when considering the CARES Act Funds.

Additionally, this plan also includes raising substitutes up to $12 per hour as base rate as well as moving Bus Drivers who drive for field trips to $15 per hour for that field trip rate.

The Board of Education (BOE) retreated to executive session during their regular meeting, and added this item to the agenda after returning. Pushing these positions’ pay higher is a temporary application of funds, but the Board of Education is hoping to utilize it as a stop-gap moving forward.

While this helps with job retention now, Dr. Ridley also stated this temporary bonus would allow the system to revamp the classified pay schedule. The school system is attempting to be more competitive for employees.

The cost of this increase is estimated at just over $306,400 per year. Dr. Ridley noted that the utilization of these funds and implementing the temporary bonus will give the board two years to accomplish this goal to revamp the schedule.

This is not the first response to issues with staffing for the school system. Bus Drivers, specifically, have had numerous issues over the years and seen several attempts to respond and rectify the issue. In 2017, the Board of Education at the time discussed incentives and bonuses for bus drivers including a $500 sign-on bonus for new drivers after completion of their CDL’s and 6-months of successful employment with the school system. Current Board Members Ronald Watkins and Michael Bramlett were on the board at that time and a part of that discussion.

However, the Board of Education has not been the only county dealing with the issues as both former Board Member Tom Ocobock and former Superintendent Dr. Shanna Wilkes reported that counties all over Georgia were having the same issues then. Today, staffing issues affect every business and government entity with restaurants continuing to close early and at odd times due to shortages, retail businesses operating on “skeleton crews,” and even governments like Gilmer County who haven’t been fully staffed in months or even a year for some.

Gilmer looks to cut off TikTok trend with parents’ help

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delay, Cagle, trend

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – News sites have recently reported numerous cases of vandalism and destruction of property in schools across the country due to a new “trend” on TikTok called the “Devious Lick.”

With arrests, convictions, school expulsions, and many other ramifications coming from these activities, the administration within our local county is attempting to get ahead of the trend here. Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley released a statement and a letter to parents about the trend. Dr. Ridley noted that we have had “minimal issues” in our county.

The challenge of this trend requires the student to steal or destroy items from their school and later post a video bragging about the crime. Make no mistake law enforcement all over the country has condemned the trend and is pursuing it as criminal activity. Law enforcement has reported what some refer to as “Organized Criminal Activity” as an arrest-able offense.

Schools are also reacting, with some going so far as locking restrooms and certain areas during class time. Gilmer has not reached this point, however, as they are attempting to deal with the “Devious Licks” before they become a real issue.

The letter to parents states

You may have already seen news stories regarding a concerning new TikTok trend called the “Devious Lick Challenge”. The challenge involves students destroying and stealing school property (particularly in bathrooms) and posting it on social media. Although there have been minimal problems locally, the challenge has become widely disruptive in some areas of the country.

We ask that you please speak with your children about the dangers of engaging in destructive and dangerous social media activities. Vandalism of school property is a serious violation of the school code of conduct that can lead to suspension and even long-term expulsion in addition to significant restitution fees.

In Gilmer County, our students are very fortunate to have access to top notch facilities. Pride in our schools is a large part of our culture. Aside from the fact that this latest challenge is just plain dumb, engaging in this type of behavior is beneath us.

Looking through reports in other cases shows countless arrests and charges ranging from petty theft to vandalism, criminal mischief, destruction of government property, and more.

While some are questioning why there is such a serious response to minor theft. Some of the “trends” are posted with items as small as hand sanitizer or soap dispensers. However, other reports indicate that many include larger items ranging from toilet seats to even fire alarms.

The Gilmer Sheriff’s Office has already worked with schools in previous years where they have worked with Gilmer Schools and even prosecuted students for issues. That Appalachian Judicial Circuit has also proven its willingness to follow through with criminal prosecutions with District Attorney Alison Sosebee going so far as performing in school presentations warning students about the possible outcomes of criminal activity, though her presentations focused on Snapchat at the time with the trend towards photos of underage kids.

As of this time, Gilmer Schools is hoping to get to its students and parents before any major issues arise or possibly create a major incident.

Animal Shelter designs give insight to expansion possibilities

Community, News
expansion, Animal Shelter

ELLIJAY, Ga. – With formal approval for the Gilmer County Animal Shelter expansion and two generous donations made for funding the project, discussion now turns to designs and plans for the project.

Animal Shelter

Preliminary Plans for the Gilmer Animal Shelter still need to be adjusted and approved by the BOC based on costs before bidding can move forward by the end of 2021.

As previously reported from the Commissioners’ September meetings, there does already exist plans for the project. However, these plans now have to go through the process of the county to be prepared and studied for costs. As the approval came to only expand as much as they could within the funds available, the county will be going over these plans.

Additionally, these plans came from a committee put together for the expansion, now moving to the county, they will need to be adjusted and approved by the county before the bidding process, estimated to begin at the end of 2021, can continue the project.

With these photos from the preliminary plan, the public can see what some of the members of FOGAS, the Animal Shelter, the hired engineer, and others who served on that committee had in mind for the shelter.

Animal Shelter

An artist rendering with the design plans shows some of what the interior of the expanded and renovated Gilmer Animal Shelter could look like.

The coming expansion will allow the Shelter to both better tend to the animals it has, and better care for an increase in that population. Animal Shelter Director Daniel Laukka said in the meeting that growth is coming. While he was urging commissioners at the time to accept the donations and approve an expansion plan, now the focus shifts to how they can meet those needs.

Another comment Laukka made in the meeting told how the shelter is using an older office space for a sick room, the current plans have alloted space for both a sick room and a veterinarian exam room in house. The plans include separate spaces for cats and feral cats as well as dogs. There are also expanded outdoor concepts including an exercise area and dog runs as well as a cat terrace. The engineer also included a second photo in the plans showcasing fully furnished cat rooms utilizing the vertical space for the animals.

According to the plans, the project will renovate approximately 2500 square feet of the original building while adding an additional 5140 square feet in new interior space with an additional 1140 square feet for kennel usage.

Citizens should understand that these plans are still early. One concern brought up by Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson during the meeting was not to get carried away and approve the project with a “whatever-the-cost” mentality. These plans represent an early stage of the county’s process. However, they do give citizens an idea on what might be possible for the future of the Gilmer County Animal Shelter and a starting point for the county to build from.

Gilmer Animal Shelter expansion approved

Community, News
expansion, Animal Shelter

ELLIJAY, Ga. – “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” A sign say in front of the Gilmer County Courthouse’s Jury Assembly Room, brought by one of the supporters of the county’s Animal Shelter and an expansion plan alongside two major donations for the facility.

expansion

Brought by a citizen speaking in support of the shelter’s expansion, a sign sits in front of the BOC meeting on September 12, 2021.

The plan actually includes both expansion and retrofitting of the facility. With encouragement from groups like FOGAS (Friends of Gilmer Animal Shelter), Volunteers Helping the Gilmer County Animal Shelter, Paws Be Good, Homeward Bound, Furry Paws, and many others according to Jack Peyton of FOGAS, who spoke first in the Commissioners meeting on September 9, 2021.

The expansion and donations have been discussed before with questions arising over how the county will support the annual increase in budget for maintaining a larger facility.

Many of those who spoke at the meeting, including Animal Shelter Director Daniel Laukka, stated that the need for a larger facility is already here and more growth is coming. Laukka and others spoke about how animals have become so increased in number that they are being housed in areas like offices simply because their is not enough room elsewhere. With cages in his own office for cats, Laukka spoke of the benefits that the expansion and retrofit will provide in caring for the animals, and how some money could be saved in the annual costs.

Minor items like having to take animals to the vets office for spay/neuter appointments will be neutralized as the expansion has a small area for vets to come and perform the procedures in the animal shelter with equipment in the shelter.

Laukka said he already has 2 vets committed to coming to the shelter to do this. With volunteers continuing to help when possible, speakers in the meeting repeated the need that they have seen as they have helped and visited the shelter. He also noted that a local commercial laundry service has offered to service new laundry equipment designated in the retrofit for free. Also helping with some additional maintenance costs.

Daniel Laukka

Animal Shelter Director Daniel Laukka, left, sits in the Gilmer BOC meeting waiting to speak about the donations and plans to expand.

Additional discussion moved from what is needed to what has already been accomplished. Dr. William Mitchell, a veterinarian, walked to the podium and said, “I am here to speak in support of Daniel.”

Though the topic at hand was about plans to expand the animal shelter, many of the speakers spoke specifically to what Director Daniel Laukka has accomplished and the leadership he has provided. Dr. Mitchell went on to say he has worked with Animal Control facilities for several decades, “I have never seen a more dedicated and hard working individual than Daniel.”

Laukka himself said he could never do what he does without his staff and supporting groups. It is a collective of efforts from the community that support the shelter.

Programs from supporting groups have allowed for help in the community like low cost spays and neuters for those who need it and the capturing of feral cats in order to spay/neuter and then re-release.

All of these culminate in a department that citizens said has every county in North Georgia looking at Gilmer and how they handle this. One speaker went so far as to call it a “mecca” of the animal shelters in the area.

expansion

A photo of the GIlmer Animal Shelter from the Volunteers Helping the Gilmer Animal Shelter.

Laukka himself noted that in 2013, the shelter averaged around 1800 to 2000 animals a year. Laukka noted that close to 1100 of those animals were euthanized every year. WIth expansion first looked at four years ago, according to Laukka, the county instead went with a van that is used in partnership with other programs in other states in the north.

With this hard work towards becoming a “no kill” status, Laukka said in the meeting, “Ninety-nine percent of the animals that come into the shelter now, leave the shelter alive, adoptable, healthy. I get all the credit for it but I couldn’t do it without all the volunteers and the employees. The employees do way more than anybody could ever know.”

Almost 45 minutes of discussion saw every single person that did stand to speak on the topic discussing their support for accepting the donations and the expansion plans. After that, the commissioners moved to the agenda item on the plans.

expansion

As the unanimous vote made approval of the plans for expansion, citizens rose to their feet in applause to show their own approval of the motion.

A very emotional night saw several speakers fighting back tears, and so followed Chairman Paris as he said, “I understand. I can’t say a lot, but I’m going to make a motion to accept the money and build a shelter.”

Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson later seconded the motion after clarifying and Paris’ amending his motion that the county fund an expansion with costs not to exceed the fund for the building from the donations. He explained the fund contains a little over $1.5 million. As such, the fund is specifically designated for the shelter. Paris said there is nothing else it can be used for.

According to a statement by FOGAS, “The input, planning, architectural work, and engineering have been completed for this expansion project.” Now, the county will take on the plans with the intent to bid and begin construction. The engineer was present at the meeting and relayed that with the work that’s been done, the county could be bidding the project by the end of the year with construction to begin in 2022.

Speaking on the expansion, Director Laukka said, “I could probably stand up here and talk for hours about what we’ve accomplished over the last few years but I want to accomplish more over the next few years as well. It’s definitely something we have to do together.”

BOC changing the budget amendment process in 2022

News
budget

ELLIJAY, Ga. – With just over a month until Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners sitting down to the budget process and holding public hearings for each department, the board is already looking at the process and is considering adjusting its amendments.

A minor change, but an important one to aid in the number of amendments made, something that has been spoken of in past years when considering the annual audit of the county. Suggestions have been made before that too many amendments could look bad on the audit.

This change will likely affect the capital budget more than the Maintenance and Operations as Chairman Charlie Paris spoke about the process of budgeting very specific amounts for specific purchases such as a motor grader. Looking at the Road Department as an example, Paris noted the example that they budgeted $300,000 for a motor grader. Having found a good slightly used one for roughly $227,000. However, some lower purchases have come in a couple thousand over budgeted price. As Paris noted that most of the purchases are balancing and the Road Department is technically staying within budget on its overall with all the purchases together.

The possible solution considered putting budgeting a general “pot” of funding without specifically budgeting each item. This “lump sum” total allocation could mean fewer amendments.

While this seems likely for the coming budget process, the board is also looking to amend the current budget as well with a resolution to perform a similar change to allow for the “lump sum” allocation.

Continuing on the process, the board is expected to move forward with the resolution at tonight’s 6 p.m. meeting, September 9, 2021. Additionally, the county is currently in the departmental stage of building the 2022 budget and scheduling the annual budget meetings. Usually in October, the county works against its own regular meeting dates as well as the return of Gilmer County’s Annual Apple Festival.

Confirmed earlier this year as the COVID numbers were decreasing, the event returns after last year’s cancellation due to the virus.

Gilmer Registrar honored with Frances Duncan Award

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award

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer, like the rest of the state and the nation, has gone through quite a lot since the 2020 Presidential Election. From early voting lines and record setting mail-in ballots to recounts and audits, all while monitoring and maintaining security and integrity in the election results. Now, one award is bringing recognition back to Gilmer County among the entire state.

There is no denying the levels of stress this puts on those running the election in the county and counting the results. Especially under an election that is still being scrutinized today.

To perform and succeed in this situation is one thing, but excelling is something worthy of acknowledgement.

award

From left to right, Gilmer Probate Judge Scott Chastain, Chief Registrar Tammy Watkins, and Registrar Sherri Jones pose for a picture with Watkins holding the Frances Duncan Award.

That acknowledgement came this week for Gilmer County and it’s Registrars’ Office. Specifically to the county’s Chief Registrar, Tammy Watkins.

Tammy Watkins, Chief Registrar of Gilmer County was honored by the Georgia Association of Voter Registration and Election Officials (GAVREO), by receiving the Frances Duncan award.

According to Gilmer’s Probate Office, “This award is given to just one person in the entire state of Georgia in recognition for their excellence in elections management.”

Tammy Watkins just returned this week from the GAVREO Conference and training under the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, according to the Registrars Office.

According to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, previous to 2020 and the COVID-19 outbreak, Georgia held one of the largest meetings of election officials in U.S. history in Savannah with more than 700 local and state elections officials from across Georgia attending a four-day conference.

Though Ms. Watkins was unavailable for comment, the Probate Office of Gilmer County issued a statement saying, “This is a very big honor and we would like to congratulate Tammy for a job well done. Gilmer County is very fortunate to have Tammy serve as our Chief Registrar and we should be so proud that one of our own was recognized with such an honor.”

Data collection questioned as county approves advertising for Speed Cameras

News

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Traffic devices and data collection are taking the next step toward a Fall implementation as they were approved for advertisement in the County Commission.

data

An example of cameras used for traffic surveillance.

However, approval only came for advertisement as the Board of Commissioners raised discussion on privacy in the traffic cameras usage. Chairman Charlie Paris was the first to make the note as he said he was wanting to set it so that the collection of photos or information for anyone not being pursued for speeding would be deleted.

“I believe that it would be essential that that data be eliminated within a specific period of time. If it is one that is not being flagged for speeding, there would be no reason for anybody to maintain that particular data,” said Paris.

Acknowledging the importance that many people place on privacy and date like this, Paris said he wanted this stipulation for approval.

As discussion continued, the question arose about who is collecting the data. As noted during the Board of Education meeting, County Attorney David Clark confirmed that the Sheriff’s Office is contracting with a company for collection. Sheriff Nicholson also stated in the previous BOE meeting that he would have those flagged for speeding sent through a Sheriff’s Deputy, likely a Student Resource Officer, to be approved before the company would mail out a citation.

shooter, speed

Gilmer County Sheriff Stacy Nicholson

These speed cameras will be established in three areas; Mountainview Elementary School on Highway 282, Clear Creek Middle School on Clear Creek Road, and Clear Creek Elementary School on Yukon Road. The county’s approval is needed for Clear Creek and Yukon roads.

The scenario will play out as someone speeds through the area, the captured infractions are sent to a local appointed officer, which Nicholson said will likely be a SRO (School Resource Officer). That officer reviews the infractions and makes sure there are no mistakes, then the company will send out tickets to those the officer approves.

Within the county’s BOC meeting, the board considered that it would be the company that they would need to put the restriction on. Due to this, Clark suggested that the approval go for beginning the process and pursuing advertising. He noted that the county will have to approve a contract with the company and could debate the restriction at that time.

With unanimous approval, the project is proceeding, but it was understood that the county would be looking at restrictions on the data during the contracting as they work alongside Sheriff Nicholson for the process.

During the discussion, Post Commissioner Hubert Parker also suggested that they look at other government entities and how they handle the data through speed and traffic cameras such as those at traffic lights.

Gilmer Schools responding to COVID case increases

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – “Gilmer Schools have seen an explosion of positive COVID cases and quarantines throughout this week.” Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley read a statement during the Gilmer County Board of Education this week on Thursday night, August 19, 2021, during their Regular Scheduled meeting.

Gilmer Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley, COVID

Gilmer Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley

As of that meeting, the total cases in Gilmer’s school system surpassed a district wide 900 students in quarantine and 100 positive cases in students and staff.

That explosion also culminated in the cancellation of the season opening varsity football game against Pickens on Friday, August 20, 2021. The school system stated, “Decisions such as these are not taken lightly, and we must prioritize the safety and well being of all student-athletes and spectators for both teams.”

Dr. Ridley said in a letter to parents about COVID restrictions earlier this week that the school system would be mandating masks and face coverings starting on Monday, August 23, 2021. He stated, “I feel it is imperative that we act now in an effort to keep our students safe and our schools open.”

In efforts to notify and share the information well in advance, that letter was sent out. However, at the Thursday meeting, Dr. Ridley also informed citizens that while working with the Department of Health, new guidelines will be coming next week in implementation. He confirmed that he would be discussing these with the press on Monday to inform citizens more about those changes as the school looks to continue implementing DPH guidelines into the schools.

As of now, Monday will see masking on school buses only with strong encouragement to wear masks throughout the day. Dr. Ridley also urged others to consider using masks and getting vaccinated against the virus. During his statement in the meeting, Dr. Ridley stated, “Students and staff who are fully vaccinated or masked during exposure will not be subject to quarantine.”

Additionally, the Board of Education also approved COVID leave time for staff that have exposures and positive tests. Superintendent Ridley stated that the official numbers will be updated on their website tomorrow, August 20, 2021.

COVIDWith the announcement of new COVID guidelines made and implementation on the way, the school system is currently working on the “logistics of implementing this new guidance as early as Monday or Tuesday of next week.”

Gilmer is continuing with quarantining for 10 days and requirements to be fever free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever reducing medications with an improvement of symptoms.

Additionally, Dr. Ridley previously told FYN that virtual academy was not being implemented for the start of school, but Gilmer does have the option if the need arises. He did not mention virtual academy at the meeting.

As the Superintendent shares more information on the changing guidelines FYN will continue to share new articles with the updated information.

Local Winery Celebrates Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

Announcements, Business, Community, Featured, Festivals, Gilmer County Chamber, Neighborhood Merchants, News

One of just many new and upcoming local wineries in Gilmer County celebrated their grand opening on Thursday July 29.

The Gilmer Chamber of Commerce welcomed the new Buckley Vineyards and wished them success. Chamber Director Bobby McNeil opened the ceremony and gave the floor to owners Kevin and Gay Buckley. After a short speech, the couple, surrounded by chamber ambassadors, cut the ribbon to officially debut their new winery. Approximately a hundred people attended the event which included music from sixteen-year-old Adrian Lyles who was a hit with the crowd.

Kevin Buckley, owner, addresses the crowd .

Each year, local Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors welcome new businesses with a special Ribbon Cutting ceremony. Ambassador Lee Johnson explained they have been very busy lately catching up with some of the new previous business owners after the pandemic.  Ambassador Kimberly Adamson was in attendance along with several others as well.

Also, celebrating a grand opening was a new limo service that will transport patrons to local wineries. Owner Tim Grimmer cut his own business ribbon too.

Sage Food Truck held its grand opening too. The vendor will serve some great cuban sandwiches and set up shop every weekend at Buckley Winery.

Buckley Vineyards opened earlier this year after acquiring the old Henry Evans homestead property.  The property is surrounded by  Turkey Creek and has a beautiful scenic view.  Kevin and Gay, owners of the property, have turned it into a beautiful winery and produce many of their own wines. They also sell some micro-brewery beer. The winery is just one of the local wineries.

Kevin explained that he loves gardening and has always wanted to open his own vineyard.  With some help learning the ropes from Mike Ott, owner of Ott Vineyard and Farms, in the field of growing grapes he has achieved his dream. The Buckley Winery is located at 708 Henry Evans Rd., Ellijay, Georgia, and is open seven days a week.

 

Tim Grimmer is pictured here cutting the ribbon.

New food truck owner ‘Sage’ also cuts a ribbon at the event for his grand opening.

Author

Pam Guenther

I am a native of N.H but more recently lived in Florida for most of my life recently moving to Georgia. I am a graduate of Concord, N.H. High School and also the N.H. tech Institute. I raised three children, my youngest being a Florida Highway Patrolman in Gainesville Fl. I love the mountain life and enjoy writing, walking, motorcycles and most outdoorsy activities. I love meeting new people and making new frineds because everyone has a story!

Sheriff highlights quarter of a million dollars in illegal drugs siezed

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Recent highlights have shown major steps in our county by the Sheriff’s Office and cooperating agencies and agents with cases like the recent arrest of a wanted member of the Ghost Face gang to arrests made after Gilmer Deputies uncovered the murder of a woman in Cherry Log.

Today, the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Stacy Nicholson released information pertaining towards the seizure of illegal drugs, guns, and operations in the county. Totaling a quarter of a million dollars, this number is only made more alarming to know that it is only the total amount captured in the first half of 2021.

Sheriff’s deputies and agents of the Appalachian Regional Drug Enforcement Operation have reported the majority of captures as Methamphetamines, a drug that has been a problem for Gilmer County for years. Along with the information, they listed many of their seizures and the dates of occurrence:

DrugsJan. 7 – 3.5 gr Meth
Jan. 13 – 3.5 gr Meth
Feb. 21 – 6.8 gr Meth
Feb. 24 – 22 gr Meth
Feb. 24 – 1 oz. Marijuana
Mar. 1 – Meth
Mar 11 – 10 gr Heroin
Mar. 17 – 8 gr Heroin, Meth, Ecstacy
Mar. 23 – 32 gr Meth, 31 gr Marijuana, 25 Schedule IV pills, $1,800 Cash
Mar. 30 – Dismantled “chop shop” operation
Apr. 1 – 1 gr Meth, 30 oz. Marijuana
Apr. 17 – 3.5 gr Meth, 28 Schedule IV pills
May 20 – 14 gr Heroin 4 gr Meth, firearms, 4 gr Meth, 20 THC vapes
May 28 – 40 Ecstasy pills
May 29 – 7 gr Heroin
June 3 – 8 Ecstasy pills, Firearms
June 8 – 3 oz. Meth, 1 oz. Heroin (along with West Metro/Fulton Co.)
June 11 – 167.1 gr Meth, 94.2 gr Heroin (along with GSP/Fannin Co.)
June 12 – 3.5 gr Meth, 5 gr Heroin
June 21 – 3.5 gr Meth
June 28 – 1 kilo Meth, 3 gr Heroin
July 7 – 1 lb. Marijuana, 1 kilo Meth
July 16 – 1.38 lb Meth, 6 gr Heroin

According to the Sheriff, this is not an exhaustive list. During their release “from the desk of the Sheriff,” Nicholson states, “This post highlights some of the more significant drug cases that GCSO Detectives, Crime Suppression Unit (CSU), K9 Deputies and Appalachian Regional Drug Enforcement (ARDEO) Agents have made for the first half of 2021. This doesn’t include all cases made, however it does highlight the more significant ones.”

Another point to think about is that this is the amount they seized, continuing operations still have more and more drugs circulating through the streets.

During these operations alone, 33 people have been arrested. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, a study in 2018 showed 67,367 deaths by overdose in Georgia alone. According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, 2020, a year with most people at home in isolation and quarantine, Gilmer County alone saw 534 Emergency Department visits over the year related to Drug Overdose specifically. That number is only those who made it to the Emergency Room to be treated.

Many others offer alternative stories. Stories like a boy who overdosed on his own couch, and rather than call 911 to get help, his friend leaves him to die so he doesn’t get caught with the drugs.

Speed Cameras coming to local School Zones

News

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – “It is an enforcement issue,” said Gilmer County Sheriff Stacy Nicholson as he spoke about school traffic zones and the reduced speed during school hours.

Sheriff Nicholson offered a report to the Gilmer Board of Education during their July meeting concerning a problem with speeding in school zones and what the office is preparing to implement in response to it.

shooter, speed

Gilmer County Sheriff Stacy Nicholson

School zones require a reduction in speed from drivers twice a day to help with the beginning of the day when students are coming in to school and the end of day when school lets out. According to Nicholson, these roughly one hour windows in the morning and afternoon are the times that the speed limits drop and complaints begin. He noted that the office expects people to become informed about the cameras and for the issue to mostly resolve before they even implement the devices.

To help with enforcement, the Sheriff has contracted with a company to put up speed cameras to capture speeders in the zone and issue tickets electronically. Not a new concept, many cities utilize camera on traffic lights in a similar fashion to issue fines against those running red lights.

Nicholson said that while it doesn’t directly affect the school system’s operation, he wanted to take the time to inform them and also to spread the word about the coming change. Nicholson asserted several times that he wants to focus on informing the public and letting them know in advance about the cameras and not to blindside them or catch them off guard.

Nicholson said that he constantly receives complaints about speeds during the school year. There are three locations that will utilize the cameras including; Mountainview Elementary School on Highway 282, Clear Creek Middle School on Clear Creek Road, and Clear Creek Elementary School on Yukon Road.

Utilizing both traffic cameras and radar, the devices will operate more as a deterrent than a ticket device as Nicholson said his hopes were to aid in the enforcement issues.

The scenario will play out as someone speeds through the area, the captured infractions are sent to a local appointed officer, which Nicholson said will likely be a SRO (School Resource Officer). That officer reviews the infractions and makes sure there are no mistakes, then the company will send out tickets to those the officer approves.

One important note, Nicholson said that these are civil fines, not traffic tickets. One of the major differences Nicholson noted, is that not paying the civil fine will not automatically send a person to jail, but “it will go to court.”

The Sheriff’s Office does have more details to work out. As Nicholson said, he wants to give ample time to the public to find out and know about the radar cameras before implementation. That said, these devices could be seen in use as early as September or October in Gilmer County.

Secured to poles, these devices will be set inside the zones that the county has marked and signed as a reduction in speed.

Board Chairman Ronald Watkins mentioned adding other devices to the areas such as flashing lights as seen in some other counties where they have flashing yellow lights posted on school zone signs during the hours of reduced speed. Nicholson said that the County has the responsibility on changing signage and using that type of signage. However, Nicholson did say that he has looked into another suggestion from Watkins with the trailers with a strobe highlighting a driver’s current speed.

All of this comes in support of Nicholson’s push to, as he said, warn and inform Gilmer’s citizens over and over again about the devices before they even get implemented.

Gilmer Sheriff’s Office reports arrest of “Ghost Face” member Jeremy Kelley

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Sheriff's, Arrested, arrest

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County is reporting the arrest of a gang member tonight. Gilmer County is no stranger to the Ghost Face gang name. With ties all over, news reports have followed arrests of these gang members from Augusta to counties in South Carolina and more. The Zell Miller Mountain Parkway Drug Task Force has had previous run-ins with the gang as have Sheriff Departments like Gilmer. Tonight, Gilmer Sheriff Stacy Nicholson and the Sheriff’s Office are reporting the arrest of Jeremy Kelley in East Ellijay.

According to their release, “On Friday morning, July 16, 2021, Sheriff Stacy Nicholson was contacted by the Stephens County, GA Sheriff in reference to Jeremy Kelley. Sheriff Shirley explained to Sheriff Nicholson that Kelley was being sought for Burglary and Auto Theft in Gwinnett County. Further, Roswell Police Dept., who had encountered Kelley earlier in the week, had multiple charges for Aggravated Assault on a Peace Officer and other charges related to an incident when they tried to apprehend Kelley.”

A resident of Stephens County, Kelley has been wanted by that Sheriff’s office for some time. During their search, Stephens County received information that he was possibly in a Gilmer County hotel.

Additionally, Kelley was believed to be traveling with a female by the name of Stephanie Summers. Gilmer’s release stated that Sheriff Shirley provided Sheriff Nicholson with pictures and a description of a possible vehicle the two might be traveling in.

With the two counties in cooperation, Gilmer County deputies responded to the information traveling to the Comfort Inn & Suites in East Ellijay. Sheriff Nicholson also personally responded alongside the county’s deputies during the operation.

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Gilmer County Sheriff Stacy Nicholson

Their release states, “As Sheriff Nicholson rode by the Comfort Inn & Suites in East Ellijay to check for the described vehicle, he saw who he thought to be Kelley standing in the parking lot.”

While the suspect re-entered the building, the reports states that authorities watched the parking lot nearly an hour before the individual, believed to be Kelley, re-appeared. As the deputies moved in to approach the individual, authorities say that he fled on foot. Giving chase, they followed him to the back side of the Comfort Inn & Suites and apprehended him. At that time, authorities positively identified the suspect as Jeremy Kelley.

After a Search Warrant was obtained for the hotel room, authorities located over a pound of Methamphetamine and other illegal narcotics. Reports also indicated they located heroin, but only stated a “trafficking amount” for the size. Gilmer Sheriff’s Office also apprehended items that had been reported stolen from Gwinnett County.

Authorities have also taken Stephanie Summers into custody, charging her with “Hindering the Apprehension of a Fugitive.”

Sheriff Nicholson states, “I want to commend my Deputies for a great job of safely and effectively taking a serious drug-dealing Ghost Face gang member off the streets, and I am just glad I was able to get knee deep in the action.”

Ellijay City Council Meeting Discuss New Educational Opportunity for Affordable Housing

City Council, Community
affordable housing

Last night at the Ellijay City Council meeting a brief introduction to the Affordable Housing Plan was introduced.  At the request of Mayor Al Hoyle, Kent Sanford, Director of Joint Development Authority, also present at the meeting, was asked by the mayor to give a brief description of the proposed 3 year resolution passing application for affordable housing.  It would include three municipalities working together with a panel of twenty committee members.  Mr. Sanford stressed that it would be an educational opportunity to learn about the Affordable Housing Act only prior to the making of any commitments. Sandy Ott, a current council member, stated she would volunteer to be on the 20 person committee. Only one citizen at the Monday night meeting raised a question about the idea that she believed it would be a more in depth process. She referenced information from a flyer she had found on the website.   She believed it would be a more detailed process in consideration of the huge community debate on zoning and housing.

Meeting began at 6 pm with opening prayer and pledge of allegiance.  The approval of agenda, as well as June meeting minutes along with the June financial statement, were all approved. There were no staff reports and just one citizen’s input noting the request to table the decision on the passage of the resolution supporting the application for affordable housing. Next on the agenda was Old Business. Mayor Hoyle stated first item was the first reading of the short-term rental ordinance which required no action at this time and would be addressed at the next meeting.

 

New Business included a motion review and action on Resolution on supporting Gilmer County’s participation in the Community Housing.  Motion to pass and accept was made with one abstention per a conflict of interest. Next was a review and action on mowing and maintenance agreement of the old round-a-bout on SR 382 and old highway 52. The city has been responsible for the mowing and maintenance of the round-a-bout and the discussion was about the feasibility of continuing the expense.   The council agreed it would put a burden on the city considering the city does not get reimbursed for this maintenance and the council agreed.  One member made a motion to Table but it was not seconded so the motion died due to lack of interest.

Next was review and action on the resolution to initiate a voter referendum to authorize the issuance and licenses of package sales in the city of Ellijay.  The motion passed with all in favor. The council then went into executive discussion behind closed doors.  After a short period council returned and announced the hiring of their new Code Enforcement Officer, Andrew Mathis. At that time council adjourned with no further business.

Council members include Council Chair Mayor Al Hoyle, Sandy Ott, Katie Lancey, Tom Crawford, Al Fuller, and Kevin Pritchitt. Next scheduled meeting for the City Council will be August 16,2021.

Author

Pam Guenther

I am a native of N.H but more recently lived in Florida for most of my life recently moving to Georgia. I am a graduate of Concord, N.H. High School and also the N.H. tech Institute. I raised three children, my youngest being a Florida Highway Patrolman in Gainesville Fl. I love the mountain life and enjoy writing, walking, motorcycles and most outdoorsy activities. I love meeting new people and making new frineds because everyone has a story!

Rodriguez arrested in Delgado murder, extradition could mean trial in Georgia

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Rodriguez

CHERRY LOG, Ga. – Joint releases continue from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) as another arrest has been made for involvement with April 2021 murder of Rossana Delgado, this time for Juan Ayala-Rodriguez.

Reaching all the way back to the original warrants for their alleged involvement, the GBI, working in partnership with the United States Marshal’s Service (USMS) Atlanta and San Diego, coordinated the transfer to U.S. custody of Juan Ayala-Rodriguez, age 35, after his arrest in Mexico.

Rossana Delgado, Rodriguez

Rossana Delgado was discovered in April of 2021 in Cherry Log where she was allegedly murdered.

On April 24, 2021, FYN reported Rodriquez, of Gainesville, Georgia, along with three other suspects, as wanted in connection to the murder. Later, in May 2021, reports came of the arrest of two of those original four alongside a fifth suspect. Now, Rodriquez is the third of the original four arrested.

According to the GBI, “Rodriguez was arrested in Durango, Mexico on Saturday, June 26, 2021.  The USMS-San Diego and Customs and Border Protection oversaw the transfer of Rodriguez to USMS custody and subsequent detention at a California facility. Rodriguez is pending extradition to Georgia to face murder charges.”

No specific information is available on which court Rodriguez may face the charges in. Delgado was last seen in Doraville, Georgia on April 17, 2021. Her husband and authorities tracked her phone as a possible location of Delgado to Covington Highway, which is more on the southeastern side of Atlanta. Eventually, her body was found in a residence in Cherry Log, Georgia, in Northeast Gilmer County.

The GBI stated, “USMS and the United States Department of Homeland Security (HSI) have worked diligently to assist the GBI and the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office in this case and in this arrest.  The GBI and the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office are very grateful for the support and efforts of the USMS, HSI and all agencies involved in effecting this arrest.”

The GBI and the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office continue to actively investigate this case and the individuals involved in the murder of Rossana Delgado.  With three of the four original warrants executed and in custody, the fifth suspect arrested and in custody, the GBI asserted that a coordinated effort to locate and arrest the other three murder suspects, Mario Alberto Barbosa-Juarez, Carolina Jazmin Rodriguez-Ramirez and Maria Chavez is active and ongoing.

As always, the GBI requests that anyone with information to please contact the GBI. Tips can also be submitted by calling 1-800-597-TIPS(8477), online at https://gbi.georgia.gov/submit-tips-online, or by downloading the See Something, Send Something mobile app.

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