Land Use Ordinance to return in March alongside ongoing agenda items

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer has published its agenda for this week’s Board of Commissioners Meeting including a return to several ongoing issues including the Land Use Ordinance, the River Ordinance, a major donation to the Animal Shelter, and an alcohol license for the county’s Golf Course.

Each of these items have been in the commissioners, making progress through the long process for changes and finalizations. While the Golf Course’s license this month is a simple final formality, it was a discussed issue in November. This approval for a license will be the final step in the ongoing process of allowing golfers to order alcoholic drinks like Beer and Wine at the clubhouse.

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Gilmer Commissioners, from left to right, Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson, Chairman Charlie Paris, and Post 1 Commissioner Hubert Parker.

In November, the commissioners indicated the wanted to allow for the sale when people ask without making any major notice or advertisements visible from the street or parking lot for the change.

While the river ordinance seemingly came to a consensus on moving forward during their special meeting, the Land Use Ordinance is still addressing issues and changing. In the old business portion of the agenda, the county could make a final decision this week, though most of the Commissioners have indicated a desire to go slow with these changes. However the county still could see action to possibly begin advertising the final changes before adopting a first reader in April further addressing the ending of the moratorium on certain developments. The board spoke about breaking the ordinance into sections and addressing them one at a time.

With changes still being addressed and some portions even being taken out after their February Special Called meeting, the BOC has the ordinance and its current state of changes available for public viewing, but until officially advertised as the final draft the BOC continues discussing, researching, and amending these changes in attempts to support citizens wishing to end major developments in the county while not encroaching on the private businesses of developers who are behind those projects.

Finally, with no major new information since the announcement of the donation and discussion of plans for the county’s Animal Shelter, citizens are commenting online and addressing commissioners to find a way forward in accepting the donations and expanding the facility. The commissioners did discuss ramifications of expansion and the increasing costs of moving forward on that project addressing management of the facility and its financial requirements, but never said they were considering rejecting the donation.

Addressing that note, the commissioners’ agenda does host the agenda item for a “Resolution to approve Donation to the Animal Shelter.” The official motion, if made, will come during the March Regular Meeting on Thursday, March 11, 2021, beginning at 6 p.m.

County returns to river ordinance in preparation of new season

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – As summer draws closer and some of the state’s COVID restrictions are loosening, Gilmer County is preparing for the coming summer with final notes and changes to the River Ordinance after their committee has completed its work.

The committee, consisting of Outfitters, property owners, Law Enforcement Officers, and county representatives, has presented changes to the ordinance and plans to improve the season while enforcing some of the ordinance laws that are already in place, such as no alcohol.

However, after the committee returned its proposals, the county has done more work on the ordinance as well. With plans to post signage and mark an area of no foot traffic to support buses entering and exiting and efforts in the Sheriff’s Office to post a deputy at take-out on Saturdays and Sundays, there is more changes coming as the county will be looking to use stamps instead of wristbands for people floating the river to show those utilizing an outfitter as well as help those floating match which buses they are to load on.

Board members have revisited the site location during their process and vowed to better clean the area of trash and debris in order to support some of the changes like having patrons stay behind a certain line, as previously stated in support of buses.

Additionally, the county is adding sequential number requirements to waivers to count the numbers of people on the river. Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson has made several references and statements showcasing a desire to better understand the impact these businesses are having on the rivers. Though in opposition to swapping out wristbands for stamps, she agreed to move forward with the board’s plans with hopes that a revisit could come should the county deem the stamps to be insufficient. One of very few dissentions among the board, much of the changes came to unanimous agreement from the commissioners.

Now, the county is moving to its next step with a Public Comments meeting set for March 11, 2021, at 5:30 p.m., half an hour before their regular March Meeting at 6 p.m. That Regular Meeting will also host the First Reading of the ordinance after these new changes, a requirement before the county can return in April for the Final Reading and a possible motion to approve the changes.

With months of work set into the ordinance from its early conceptions amid committee to seeing its process through the BOC now, the final adoption will be coming just in time for River Outfitters to really pick up with the heavy part of their season. More details are still being discussed on implementation as outfitters are raising questions on some people wanting to float the river very soon and some involving more online reservations with digital signatures on waivers. However, full implementation cannot be undertaken until final approval comes for the ordinances changes, meaning that outfitters are still currently operating under the old ordinance until that can happen.

BOE adopts personnel and legislative delegates

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – After last months approvals for administration in the schools, the Board of Education returned to finalize school personnel for the coming 2021-22 school year during the BOE meeting near the end of February.

During the meeting the board individually voted for five staff members individually, each board member abstained from one vote on the five due to being a relative. After this, the board voted for each school individually for their staff as recommended by the school’s Principal including Clear Creek Elementary School, Ellijay Elementary School, Mountain View Elementary, Clear Creek Middle School, and Gilmer High School.

With no requests to pull any specific staff out for individual vote, the board approved the recommended staff renewals for each of the schools. Additionally, the Board approved the monthly staff changes including resignations, retirements, and new staff.

In preparation for the summer, the BOE approved amended training plans for the board to fulfill needs for its new members and also for existing members as well as appointing new state delegates. Increasing the hours of training for its existing members of previous years, the Gilmer BOE is attempting to achieve state recognition as a “distinguished board” which includes increased training. According to Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, the board was originally supposed to submit the training plans in September, but had to do so with current board members. Since its new members came on in January, the board is amending the submitted plans with the names of the new members.

The board elected Doug Pritchett as its legislative delegate and Michael Bramlett as the alternate for the Georgia School Board Association (GSBA) for the legislative session.

After discussion during their worksession, the board approved two policy changes including its Community Coaches policy.

The policy saw recommended changes from GSBA Legal Council and GHS’ Athletic Director to “provide clarity.” The changes to the policy included references to GHSA and their White Book alongside changes to hiring, background checks, and coaching principles.

Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston provides breakfast to local health workers giving vaccinations

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Sheree Bradburn, on behalf of Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston, was up bright and early serving breakfast to our local health workers. The Gilmer County health department will be providing vàccinations at the Piedmont Community center.. Bradburn told us, “Ralston is down at the Capitol fighting for us and I want to pitch in right here at home.”

The efforts of public health and Piedmont mountainside is a great example of public/private partnerships that work. This is what our taxpayers and community want to see and the kind of services they deserve.

We can all support the vaccination efforts in our own ways, whether dropping off meals or providing childcare to workers, whatever. Let’s look for ways to pitch in and make vaccination efforts a success. The sooner we do it the sooner we can get back to normal.

(Pictured here L-R Sheree Bradburn and Krystal Sumner, RN BSN)

FYN spoke with Krystal Sumner, RN BSN, County Nurse Manager, Gilmer County Health Department who gave us the following information.

Gilmer Health Department has administered over 7,500 COVID-19 Vaccines and North Georgia Health District has administered over 70,000 vaccines.

Gilmer Health Department has partnered with Dalton State College utilizing nursing student to assist in the vaccination process. We are also very appreciative of Piedmont for allowing us to use the Piedmont Community Center for a vaccine site. This space allows us to vaccinate one person every minute at our clinic.

Anyone interested in the COVID-19 vaccine may call 1-888-881-1474 or go to www.NGHD.org and click on the COVID-19 19 Information Banner. This will inform the person where vaccine is available and how to make an appointment.

We would like to thank the office of Speaker Ralston for their time and appreciation.

Million dollar donation has county looking at Animal Shelter

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – An announcement today from Gilmer Chairman Charlie Paris informed the public of an additional large donation to the Gilmer County Animal Shelter.

The announcement came amid a special called meeting, but it is the first mention of the donation in public as Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said it happened yesterday, February 23, 2021. Paris said that the county is receiving $1 million in a donation to expand and improve the county’s Animal Shelter.

The county has received other donations recently. Two separate donations of $200,000 each set the county to expect to add in $100,000 in county funds to improve the Animal Shelter. Paris noted then and reiterated today that the county is looking at an increased need in the department.

Gilmer Animal Shelter Director Daniel Laukka works with all kinds of organizations like Be-Paws We Care to find homes for animals in local counties or in other states.
(Photo by Pickens’ Be-Paws We Care, Inc.)

These previous donations, when made, pushed the county to look at the shelter and the use for that money in improving and addressing the needs that were coming.

Paris suggested that the coming need to increase staff at the location is likely inevitable as he said that Gilmer’s Shelter is gaining a statewide reputation for its operations. The Director of the Animal Shelter is Daniel Laukka. Laukka has been praised numerous times through the community and through the county’s government during specific meetings addressing the department such as budget meetings.

The shelter has made allies both in and outside the county, working with other shelters to find homes for pets. Some of their efforts outside of the county include transporting animals north for support outside of the state of Georgia. These animals that have not found homes here in Gilmer are given more opportunities elsewhere. Just this week, the Animal Shelter posted information about transporting pets to Illinois.

However, these programs are made possible by community support and aid. One of the most well known partnerships comes from working with the public through the community driven support program, “Friends of Gilmer Animal Shelter” (FOGAS).

According to their page, FOGAS is a Georgia, non-profit, tax exempt, 501(C)3, all volunteer organization that raises funds to save homeless pets at Gilmer County Animal Shelter.

The now $1.5 million project to expand the shelter is facing two separate issues that the county is discussing. The first being that such an expansion will undoubtedly increase expenses for the Animal Shelter, a department that is one of the county’s smaller budgets according to the board. Post Commissioner Hubert Parker urged the board as a whole to consider the increase that this project will bring, not only though increasing required staff for operations but also for the increase in utilities and supplies. Paris said at one point that he expects a need for one or two additional personal even before looking at plans to expand the facility.

The second issue comes not from the shelter itself, but rather from today’s economy. With the effects of the COVID-19 virus still being felt, Paris noted that building supplies and costs are still increasing. Though the county had an architect look at plans and consider the project last year, Paris said in today’s meeting, “What I was anticipating that we could get for that half million dollars, turns out, in today’s environment, to be just about what we can for that million-and-a-half dollars.”

Paris said that a lot of the increase seems to be coming from the COVID virus through materials and shortages.

The Board of Commissioners is taking extra time on the project. Considering the new donation, changes are coming to increase the plans and to address the new donation. One idea to address came in today’s discussion as Parker asked if the board might consider asking the donor if part of the funds might be set aside for operations. Parker explained that the concept might include setting aside $200,000 or $300,000 and to use the earnings off of that to help support the animal shelter operations. However, he offered the thoughts as an example that the county could discuss with those who gave the donation.

Paris did note that any project or plan for the facility still has a lot of unanswered questions. Having just received the donation, the county is looking at possibilities and their impacts on the county and the Shelter going forward.

Board creates constraints on school calendars and voting

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Calendars

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – The annual calendar for Gilmer Schools has gone through constant revisions and changes in recent years as the board has utilized school governance teams and public input in the decision making process. However, this year is looking to see a major change in that the board will likely be putting restrictions on the teams creating the calendars.

Although this is not the only change, it is the most prominent as Monday saw the Board of Education, in their work session meeting, discussing the topic with Board Member Ronald Watkins heading the drive to modify the calendar creation by placing restrictions on when the schools can “start” the school year on their calendars.

Calendars

Gilmer’s Board of Education, from left to right, Joe Pflueger, Michael Parks, Doug Pritchett, Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, Michael Bramlett, and Ronald Watkins.

Although many begin considerations and ideas for the calendar earlier, the real progress on calendar creation begins in January and February of each year as each school’s student governance team begin the process of creating their own calendars and submitting them for consideration by the BOE. In recent years the BOE has looked to public surveys to help guide them on deciding which calendar to go with. With one year opening the survey without oversight, it was reported that some voted multiple times. Because of that, last year saw the email sent only to students, parents, teachers, and staff.

However, at that time, Watkins opposed the popular vote calendar as the dissenting vote in the 4-1 approval of the 2020-21 calendar. This year, Watkins continue voicing his dissention of a similar calendar to 2020-21 saying that the calendar encroached on July as the summer month, disrupting vacations and summer plans for families. Watkins also questioned details of the survey’s inclusion of students opinions and votes.

On the 2021-22 calendar, Watkins stated, “Last year, teachers started back in July. We’re not Cherokee County, we are Gilmer County. I, personally, like the Murray County Calendar, but that ain’t going to happen. I feel like, as a Board, we need to set parameters on how early do we start back and how late to finish… Nobody should be going back to school in July. Period.”

Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs later offered the calculations that starting in August would reduce certain breaks and could push closer to Christmas. Though not exact, expectations indicated that if the calendars were to keep a full week off for Thanksgiving, it would be likely that students would be in school the week leading up to Christmas, though not all week. In 2021, Christmas Eve will be on a Friday with Christmas Day on Saturday.

Board member Joe Pflueger said that he did agree that he wasn’t keen on the idea of teachers going back to school in July. Pflueger noted that many extracurriculars  are backed up into the middle of July with that schedule, inching ever closer to July 4.

Many of the schools have already begun discussions in calendar creation and principals reported to the BOE during their meeting that much of the feedback on the 2020-21 calendar was positive.

One principal said that their teachers were happy to trade an earlier start for more breaks during the year. Another principal reported that their students also enjoyed the mid-semester breaks. Another said that their teachers were hesitant at first, but found the overall experience preferable with breaks lined up along holidays, like this years’ week long break in Spring semester aligning with President’s Day on February 15.

Watkins debated the argument for mid-year breaks allowing vacations saying that the calendar was only good for a select percentage of teachers who had spouses who could mirror the vacations. Watkins said, “It’s nice to take 10 vacations a year, but most people in Gilmer County can’t take 10 vacations. You’re messing my vacation up by starting back in [July].”

Although not voting on the official action to set those parameters, Dr. Downs asked for more opinions and direction from board. Michael Parks simply agreed that he didn’t like starting in July. Douglas Pritchett said he wished to let the process continue solely through the teams, keeping the process as it is, without parameters.

Dr. Downs said she wanted to give the governance teams some guidance as to the boards intentions due to many of those teams meeting this week before Thursday’s Regular Meeting where the formal vote will be held. She said that she felt the school governance teams offered the benefit of teacher and parent input through the teams. Additionally, she noted that the last couple of years saw one calendar win by a landslide. She noted that the survey has updated as well, with last year being sent through email so that on specific people such as parents, teachers, and students could offer their opinions on the subject.

However, Watkins and Pflueger both spoke on possibly excluded students from the survey.

Pflueger said, “If you ask a child, ‘Hey, do you want a break here, a break here?’ I don’t know if a child would turn that opportunity down.” He went on to add that his personal opinion would be that it would be a plus to have parents, teachers, and staff to offer their thoughts through the vote.

Watkins also dissented on allowing students to vote on the calendars saying that he knew of a Clear Creek Middle School student who was asked if he voted on the calendar. Watkins said the student replied that he had “voted on something” and that the teacher had told them which to vote for.

The board continued discussions ultimately setting upon the parameters being not to start before August 1 and not to end later than June 3. The board also seemed agreeable to only allow teachers, parents, and staff to vote on the calendars.

The next calendar question to arise asked if the Board might consider doing multiple years of calendars at once. Downs said it was entirely possible to do multiple years and start working on the calendars earlier than January. Planning ahead, Downs said one county plans 3 years out for calendars. Downs added that much of the thought behind starting in January is so that calendar discussions not start without new board members who might be coming in January from elections.

However, Downs recommended that the teams move forward and the board vote on their calendars in March, but consider multiple years as they create the next calendar so that they can have time to create those multi-year calendars.

The Board of Education’s Regular Meeting will be Thursday, February 25, 2021, at 6 p.m. Citizens wishing to comment on the topic at Thursdays Regular Meeting should sign up with the Superintendent by 9 a.m Thursday.

Homeward Bound Pet Of The Week: Cheyenne

Fast & Furriest

This smile is genuine!  Meet Cheyenne, a 7 year old terrier mix, who is a little Miss Snugglebug.  She is currently on a weight management and regular exercise program.  Cheyenne was one of 7 dogs who were surrendered to animal control after their parents passed away.  Cheyenne now loves to walk on a leash and wants to keep going.  She is also getting used to a healthy dog food; not just canned and treats.  Cheyenne is now completely vetted; dental and all!  

 

For more information about Homeward Bound Pet Rescue, check out our website and apply online:  www.hbpr.org.  We are always looking for volunteers to foster and help with socializing our cats and dogs.  We are located between Ellijay and Blue Ridge, GA.

Returning to the river regulations debate in Gilmer

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Addressing suggestions from outfitters, law enforcement, and citizens on the county’s River Committee, Gilmer is looking to move forward with changes to the river ordinance for regulations.

Much of the conversation amongst members of the Board of Commissioners involved marking areas of the take-out for loading and changing from required wristbands for people on the river to requiring a stamp on people’s hands.

The county is looking to further cleaning efforts in the take out location in order to open more space as they are hoping to mark a line that people should not cross, allowing the vehicles unblocked access to pull in and out. Additionally, the outfitters would use sequentially numbered forms with signatures to match to the stamps. The county tracks those numbers to keep track of the number of people on the river in order to keep track of the dollar per person used in funding projects for the river.

Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson disagreed with changing the wristbands saying that she felt they worked well. However, the board decided to try the stamps out for this year saying that they could return and change back or change to something else if need be.

The county is also reserving the right to be on premises at the take out location to observe operations on the county property. Along with this, the BOC said that current understanding was that a sheriff’s deputy would be on location on the weekends of the season to monitor and help with situations like alcohol consumption and trespassers.

Though discussions continued over details of the ordinance change, the board is ultimately waiting for a Special Called Meeting later in February to approve the changes for advertisement as they await County Attorney David Clark to add in more changes addressed during the county’s work session meeting.

Some additional details are also going into the final copy that the commissioners are expected to adopt later this month as they all indicated to be supportive of the most of the changes. FYN will be adding new information when the final version is adopted for advertisement and when this meeting is scheduled.

Chamber cancels Apple Blossom but looks to later festivals with hope

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – With new President/CEO Jennifer Grimmer guiding the Gilmer Chamber, an official announce came today regarding three major Chamber events in 2021, including the upcoming Apple Blossom Festival.

Through email and social media, the Chamber has officially announced the cancellation of the 2021 Apple Blossom Festival. The festival was cancelled last year in the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak. This year also looks to be the cause as a statement from the Chamber said, “Out of an abundance of caution and desire to keep our public safe, the decision has been made to cancel the 2021 Georgia Apple Blossom Festival.”

BlossomThe cancellation is already drawing comments from the community in droves with many saying they understand or it is the right decision. Others question the reasoning and compared the event with other businesses and their decisions. According to Grimmer, citizens have been asking about the events this year and their status. Grimmer released a statement today in the Chamber’s email saying, “I am happy to confirm that we are on track for the Apple Festival and Taste of Ellijay! While we are disappointed that the Apple Blossom Festival will not happen in 2021, we are very excited for 2022 and already planning some new features that we believe everyone will enjoy.”

The Apple Blossom Festival’s social media is echoing the sentiment with updates on their efforts on the 2022 Georgia Apple Blossom Festival and saying the have “full intent to make next year’s Apple Blossom Festival the best one yet!”

With encouragement and hope settling in for Taste of Ellijay and the Apple Festival this year, citizens can only wait and watch for updates as the county continues navigating county, state, and federal responses to the virus. As the Chamber and events coordinators speak with vendors and make plans, FYN will update the events’ status as details become available.

County meeting addresses Magistrate Judge, property, and a loan for the landfill lift-station

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners dealt with approvals for issues surrounding maintenance, costs, and the magistrate office in February as they discussed pressing financial decisions for the county.

Returning again to county owned property in Coosawattee, Chairman Charlie Paris said that the board has previously agreed and approved the sale of the property. Paris said, “We are never going to do anything with that property, ever.”

While the previous bid held a minimum $500 bid, this time Paris originally suggested a $50 minimum. Post Commissioner Hubert Parker questioned if they should even put a minimum on the bid. County Attorney David Clark countered suggesting a nominal $1 minimum bid. With the board in agreement they are once again trying to shed the property so they will no longer need to plan the annual dues on it. Approved unanimously, the county is moving forward with the $1 minimum bid.

The county also saw an agenda item for approval of a Senior Magistrate Judge position. The topic goes all the way back to budget talks in October of 2020 when Magistrate Judge Kevin Johnson said he wanted to keep Magistrate Judge Roger Kincaid as a part-time Judge in 2021. The idea was not a new one as Kincaid had Judge Ken Roberts in a similar “associate” position to support him when needed. Johnson said it would also give him time to use Kincaid as a mentor and guide into the new role.

Commissioner Parker is now questioning the position approval for four years and funding for the position that he said was no approved in 2020 Budget Meetings.

Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson also agreed saying that she also thought it was only supposed to be a 6 month to one year appointment.

Both Post Commissioners indicated that they wanted to find out more information so that they could know exactly what the path ahead entails and find answers to funding and other questions they have. The Board ultimately tabled the agenda item to pursue those questions. They will be revisiting the item in a Special Called Meeting towards the end of February.

Finally, another approval came as the board considered a loan for the lift-station project at the county landfill. The GEFA loan offers principal forgiveness to aid the county with additional funds for the project in terms of not having to repay that portion of the loan. Paris noted it is a loan the county anticipates repaying the loan very quickly and not looking at it as long-term debt. In addition to grant funds, the combination is driving down the costs to the county for the project.

The county approved taking the GEFA loan for the Landfill Lift Station/Force Main Project.

 

County approves advertising for bids on new pool

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Engineering reports are completed and in the hands of the Commissioners for their pool project.

The project saw a delay early this month when COVID hit the engineering firm causing a major quarantine. However, with the specs and the firm working alongside Project Leader Loy Jarrett and County Attorney David Clark, reports indicate that Gilmer could be bidding out the project as early as mid-March.

Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said that the advertisement will have to be open for four weeks as it is a public works project, which means bidding would last into May. Citizens could see the county awarding the bid in their May Regular Meeting.

One change to previous designs came with modifications to move the diving well to the right side, from the center. That is moved to the right hand side when viewed from the civic center.

One point of note that Post Commissioner Hubert Parker put forth was to inform citizens that the progress is underway and while the designs are in, the finalization of the bid package is being undertaken as a part of the same project with the firm.

With that, citizens could be seeing physical progress on construction in May or June after that bid process is completed, awarded, and the contracted company begins the project.

The county was looking to a special called meeting towards the end of February to look at final approval for advertising the project for bids and a few other items. However, with optimistic news coming on the day of the Regular Meeting, the Commissioners did move forward with approving advertisement of the bid package upon completion.

With that approval, the next step is to wait for the advertisement period and bid openings before citizens will know which company will be actually building the new pool.

Sheriff’s Office honors 25th Anniversary for Brett Dickey

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A long weekend for some as they take a day to remember Presidents and celebrate Valentine’s Day, yet, it also marked a major event for the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office and Gilmer Sheriff Stacy Nicholson. The office honored the memory of their fallen Deputy Brett Dickey in the 25th anniversary ceremony.

An annual event, many will recognize certain memorial actions like lowering the courthouses flag to half mast or the playing of taps as Officers salute the memorial. Sheriff Nicholson spoke for the memorial, thanking those who were present for the ceremony.

Nicholson said, “Today is a milestone mark in the memory of Brett. It’s the 25th anniversary, today, of when he was killed in the line of duty as a Gilmer County Deputy Sheriff. February 13, 1996, I will never, ever forget that day… There is so many here today, so many that worked for the Sheriff’s Office, so many citizens in the county that are so supportive of the Sheriff’s Office.”

Nicholson said, “I hope that what we try to do, in some small way gives some comfort or peace to the family. I feel like it is our responsibility to honor Brett’s memory every year.”

The memorial transpired in the rain as Nicholson jokingly said it was “perfect weather.” Yet, some would agree it is altogether right and proper that a day of remembrance be somber and cloudy.

It is difficult to label the remembering of a tragic day and the loss of someone in a community. More so for those in the department who knew him or were close to him. As citizens we can only know a part of the sacrifice and the life. Some call days of remembrance a celebration to celebrate the life and the efforts of this man. Some call it a memorial, calling to mind memories of life together or service alongside him. Still others might call it a ceremony, ritualizing the events to create honor from tragedy. One may call it a vigil as they wish to guard the story and carry it onward into the future, so that others may know of the sacrifice.

Additionally, many people will drift from year to year, the day may be a sad dirge one year becoming a day of celebration and memory the next.

Nicholson said that his wish to continue past the 25th anniversary is to continue the memory. He spoke about the younger generation and many citizens that didn’t know Dickey, offering his thoughts and hopes that the people of Gilmer County would share the memory. He said, “Tell your kids who Brett Dickey was. He made the ultimate sacrifice for citizens of this county and the state of Georgia.”

Nicholson recalled a couple stories of his time with Brett Dickey including one from the night that he died. He also recalled how small the Gilmer Sheriff’s Office was at the time, a small “family” he called them. A family devastated by the events that transpired. Nicholson thanked retired Gordon County Sheriff Sid Roberts and retired Murray County Sheriff Howard Ensley who were present at the 25th anniversary ceremony. Nicholson thanked them because he said they “ran Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office” for a few days after the events of Dickey’s death.

Gilmer Deputy Sheriff Brett Dickey

Gilmer Deputy Sheriff Brett Dickey

With tears welling up, Nicholson said to both the retired Sheriffs,  “That made an impression on me.”

Gilmer Sheriff’s Office Chaplain Scotty Davis also spoke before praying over those present. He said, “We are here honoring a man who is a hero because he served this county and he served this community. Preserving, serving, and protecting you and your parents as they grew up. It is a great honor serving in law enforcement.”

Davis’ prayer ended the ceremony as the deputies present marched away immediately after.

In the Bible, in the book of John, Jesus speaks to those who follow his faith saying, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” A man who serves, who offers his life daily in that service, may have died in that service, but he offers that love to those he served and to those he offered his life daily to protect. It is sad that one day, that offer was claimed. Yet, it is a portrayal of love on this Valentine’s Day weekend that one man gave to a community, that he gave to those he served.

It is on this day that the Sheriff’s Office remembers its loss. It is on this day that they remember what they gained. It is on this day that they refresh and renew the meaning of that sacrifice. It is we who live on that attribute meaning and honor to those who have sacrificed for us.

County backs off from creating Board of Elections

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Once again returning to conversations of an election board in Gilmer County, the Board of Commissioners is putting the agenda item to create a board on hold.

According to Commission Chairman Charlie Paris, the BOC will not host the agenda item on every meeting as previously planned. The decision came among the board’s agreement after Paris reported that he thought it best to seek an alternative path due to his investigations and considerations of the board’s make-up.

Paris said, “When I got to looking around some at Elections Boards, what I found is that yeah almost all counties have them, but a lot of counties are having a lot of problems with them.”

Paris noted Fulton County specifically whose election board is denying legal requests for documents. He also noted reported problems in Fannin County where board members won’t speak to each other.

Paris said, “I don’t believe the two parties can hold civil conversation between themselves nowadays.” Though he noted that he previously believed Gilmer might be one of the few places it could occur, he no longer felt that way.

Acknowledging that elections have grown, Paris said he understood that elections are so minutely watched and that the work is substantially larger than it used to be.

The discussion continued with Post Commissioner Hubert Parker saying he agreed with not moving forward on an election board until the alternative has been studied.

Scott Chastain, Elections,

Gilmer County Probate Judge Scott Chastain

That alternative that the Board of Commissioners agreed to pursue and the Probate Judge Scott Chastain is currently looking into, involves reconfiguring the Probate Office to possibly include some extra staff to “offload” some of that work.

What the Probate Office would use this staff for in off years without elections is yet to be discussed. However, the concept is in very early stages as both entities continue to look for a path forward.

Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson said, “I think that’s fantastic because that group has done a fantastic job with our elections.”

Paris echoed the sentiment saying Gilmer is among the few counties, in his opinion, that had a flawless election.

With a solid path forward for the commissioners, Paris made a final note that he told Judge Chastain that if there was a push in state legislation to force a Board of Elections, Gilmer would “fight it tooth and nail.”

However, Paris was also quick to note that while he shared this with Judge Chastain, it was not as a threat. Rather he wanted him to know the county’s stance. Paris said the conversation was “not contentious.” He went on to add that Chastain has been very civil in all conversations considering the county’s path forward for elections.

Commissioners revamp Land Use changes again

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Land Use

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners took another meeting this week to revisit changes to the Land Use Ordinance considering density, Residential, and Agricultural Zonings.

This time, the board met alongside the Planning Commission to inquire and discuss changes with them as well. While much of the focus recently has been on R-1 and R-2 zones and the lot size for those zones, the commissioners ultimately focused on Agricultural for most of its changes as proposed by the end of the meeting.

After the nearly two-and-a-half-hour meeting, these changes included backing off of lot-size changes in R-1 and R-2 as Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said he spoke with “a representative from the regional commission and the Department of Community Affairs last week.”

Paris said his discussion with the regional commissioner representative suggested that the high-density growth would follow the sewer lines through the county. Paris did say he wants to keep an eye on the topic so as to address it if this is not the issue.

Paris said of his discussion, “Without sewer lines, septic systems themselves will be something of a restriction because the health department will not approve so many of them that it endangers our groundwater supply.”

Along that idea, Paris said he contacted the Water-Sewer Authority to inquire of plans to expand the sewer system. He reported that he was told there were no plans.

Paris noted that the county also hosts a comprehensive plan to indicate regions to support agriculture in the county while designating areas for residential and density housing.

Land Use

Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson

Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson agreed with the concept as well referencing a need for “affordable housing” in the county. A topic discussed over recent years in the Chamber, County Plans, and other agencies looking to increase workforce housing.

Ferguson did say that her concerns come from R-2 developments in isolated parts of the county. These become islands of high-density housing in the county.

Ultimately, however, changes to Residential Zone in the Land Use Ordinance changes were left behind in support of the theory that these projects will follow sewer lines and the idea that the board may revisit the idea when sewer lines expand or density does become a larger issue. One change that looks like it will remain for residential is the hobby livestock coverage. Instead of supporting large animals, the new change will likely only allow chickens and possibly small animals like goats in residential. Most of the meeting considered only allowing chickens until a comment brought up the idea of goats specifically. With the board’s efforts focused on larger animals including cows and horses, the main focus is likely to allow for a limited number of smaller animals for personal use.

The board instead is going forward with increasing lot size minimums from 3 acres to 5 acres for Agricultural zones. Also, they will move forward with separating campgrounds into their own Agricultural Recreation (AR) Zone, though the name is probably going to change before approval. This zone will require 25 acres and a 300-foot buffer for the campgrounds and RV grounds to be built in the county.

Elections, Density, Land Use

Commission Chairman Charlie Paris

Lessening the restrictions among lot sizes in the county comes after a packed meeting and many developers loudly opposing the restrictions saying the county is hurting their businesses.

However, the county also saw a meeting last month considering the changes with many supporting the changes to keep Gilmer a rural county.

Additionally, Paris himself opened this meeting saying he has received numerous emails both for and against the Land Use changes.

The third major discussion of the meeting focused on roads in the county and maintaining the quality of those roads throughout the county. As one of the driving forces, not much changed in the roads changes, however, consideration was given to shoulder widths in the county as thoughts were given to burying utility cables and the possibility of fiber optics stretching through the county.

The changes discussed were handed off to County Attorney David Clark who will be scribing the changes into the resolution to amend the Land Use Ordinance. The county is looking at these changes and could be seeing further discussion Thursday night at their Regular Meeting. However, the Board is also considering another Special Called Meeting towards the end of the month to discuss it then along with other topics.

February will decide the moratorium, ordinance, and future of Gilmer’s large developments

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ordinance

ELLIJAY, Ga. – As Gilmer’s Commissioners continue working on limiting and controlling growing sizes and numbers of developments in the county through its ordinance, they received the other side of the moratorium’s effects when a Special Called Meeting saw a large group of developers seeking information about the future of their work.

With lot size minimums looking to increase, current lots smaller than the minimum would be grandfathered in. Some comments in the meeting revolved around these increases with one speaker, Develle Frady, asking about a parent looking to split their land and give a piece to their child to build on. He said this would hurt some of those people working hard all their life to cut some land and leave it to kids.

Frady said the changes wouldn’t stop growth, but rather create more class division.

Crystal Chastain spoke in the meeting as well asking to support some more of the developments. While she said she the county needs to control growth and it does need to grow, she wanted the county to put off the vote for the ordinance changes advertisement to look deeper into the topic. She said the county needs “affordable workforce housing.” Something that could be accomplished through developments.

ordinance

Crystal Chastain speaks to the BOC about her opinions and requests for the county’s Land Use Ordinance in a meeting on January 29, 2021.

Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson agreed saying she has been thinking about the affordable housing. She said she and the board is trying to balance the issue and she was thinking on a half acre increase and what it would do to affordability. It is something she has worked on in previous positions as well. She promised Crystal that the board is considering the issues saying, “We’re working on it.”

Much of the discussion centered on lot size changes and the effect the changes will have on citizens and the county. Other commenters repeated asking the commissioners to delay and look closer at what consequences and effects the changes may cause.

The meeting also saw minor confusion on the exact changes as the county continues to work on the issue. It has yet to formally approve anything on the Land Use Ordinance, and, in fact, it remains in unfinished business on their agendas as the county once again pushed back approving advertisement of the changes in favor of continuing talks with the community. Some of the confusion in the community has come from exactly this reason, the county has had two separate meetings with numerous speakers both for and against the changes being discussed. As new changes and adjustments are made at every meeting, the county is constantly changing the proposed ordinances to keep pace with citizens comments.

ordinance

Keith Sumner, a local builder in Gilmer, debates the Land Use Ordinance and its effects on citizens.

Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said during the meeting that if they were to have voted on something that day, it would only have been to advertise changes.

To make these changes, the county must go first approve an official advertisement of the changes, hold an official public comments meeting, then approve the changes once during a monthly meeting, then approve changes a second time during the following meeting for final adoption of those changes. After all of January with its work session, regular meeting, and a special called meeting, the county has yet to take its first official step in making these changes to the ordinance.

Instead, with some commenters in the meeting asking the county to look again and one asking to wait and see if the market changes soon, they are once again tabling the discussion to possibly adjust the changes once more and consider advertising again in February. Pushing the item back is creating an issue with the county’s moratorium in place and set to expire in a few months. The County Attorney David Clark suggested the board consider this alongside their motion to table the discussion. He asked that if the commissioner continue pushing the vote back, they discuss lifting the moratorium. He said it could be unfair to developers to continue the moratorium indefinitely if the ordinance change discussions continued too much longer.

Clark said, “I’d encourage you not to extend the moratorium.”

ordinanceClark also warned that he felt like much of the current discussion focused on lot sizes, but there could be more “nuts and bolts” in the changes that could come to light after the lot sizes.

Other issues the county is considering includes road quality and zoning labels among others.

Ferguson requested a joint meeting between the Board of Commissioners and the Planning Commission to further discuss the Land Ordinance. Paris agreed saying that he also wanted some representation from the Builders Association and a few other associations at the meeting to include their input as well.

That joint meeting has officially been published for Monday, February 8, 2021, at 2:30 p.m. in the Jury Assembly Room of the Gilmer County Courthouse. It will prove to be a busy week for the county as this meeting comes only two days before their February Work Session on February 10, 2021, at 9 a.m. and the Regular Meeting on February 11, 2021, at 6 p.m., both at the same location.

The county is also going to obtain information from other neighboring counties on the topic from the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission (NWGRC).

Commissioners annual meeting schedule

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exposures, agent, meeting, pool, agenda

ELLIJAY, Ga. – With changes to the November meeting dates due to several conflicts attempting to schedule it between the Thanksgiving holiday, other department meetings, and an ACCG Conference, the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners has published its schedule for its 2021 meetings.

January saw the change adopted and the official schedule is now available for the public.

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