County backs off from creating Board of Elections

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Gilmer County BOC, Intergovernmental Agreement, session, Meeting, Board, speed

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.

Probate Judge Chastain addresses commissioner questions in email

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Probate

ELLIJAY, Ga. – With the continuing process of such a “major change” for Gilmer County on the horizon, the Board of Commissioners have continued questioning the need, process, make-up, and representation for an Elections Board outside of the Probate Office for the county.

Continuing the discussion this month, Probate Judge Scott Chastain spoke with Commissioners about the board again. However, he had also been answering commissioners questions outside of meetings, too. Delving into the idea, Post 1 Commissioner Hubert Parker had issued questions to Chastain via email in order to garner more information.

Parker asked three questions of the Probate Judge. Upon request, the Board of Commissioners have provided that email to the public. The following are Chastain’s answers for the Board of Elections, in his own words.

What is the problem or situation we are attempting to solve?

One of the problems I am facing is the amount of work that I have to do in my office as the Probate Judge. As the numbers increase here in Gilmer County, the more volume of work I will see in my office. Another problem I face is as an elected official that Is over elections, when I am on the ballot, I cannot have any involvement with the elections. I have to appoint three people and pay them to monitor the elections in my absence but ultimately, if something goes wrong, I am still the Election Superintendent and would be responsible for the outcome. I do not like that nor believe it to be fair. They tell me that I cannot have anything to do with the election but then hold me accountable if something goes wrong. I am attempting to fix a couple of things by requesting a Board of Registration and Elections. I am trying to assure the citizens of Gilmer County that they have someone or a board that can focus entirely on the registration and elections here in Gilmer County. I feel as though my other responsibilities and duties are keeping me from being able to do that. I am trying to restore confidence in our election process by removing the administration of elections by an elected official that appears on the ballot. I am also trying to preserve the right of Gilmer County to create this board on their own without the intervention from the State of Georgia. As I previously stated, it is just a matter of time before every county in Georgia has a board. With 31 Probate Judges left as Election Superintendents and 29 of those Judges wanting it removed from their office now, it is only a matter of time before Gilmer County will be forced to create one and I would rather us have the flexibility to create it now instead of like they tell us to.

How are elections handled now? What is your role and what is Tammy’s role?

I am not sure if you mean specifically or just generally. Right now, Tammy Watkins is in charge of registration and all early voting, including absentee ballots. My role is to over see the election side of it. Most of that will happen the day of election. I am also in charge of all qualifying and filing of the elected officials reports. Tammy does a large portion of that now. Tammy and I proof all ballots, order the ballots, order election supplies, Logistic and Accuracy testing of the election equipment, notifications in the news paper, sample ballot in the news paper, recruit poll workers, train poll workers, secure polling places, deliver all election equipment to polling places, Election Day support for poll workers, election results, upload election results, email election results to the state, pick up equipment from polling places, consolidate the election results, etc. Of course, Tammy and I have a wonderful team of folks to help us do all of this because there is no way one person could do it all. I also prepare a budget each year for elections and I am required to attend several hours of training in elections. Tammy also attends this training. I am also in charge of changing and/or consolidating precincts.

Generally, boards serve as an oversight function and do not handle the daily operations. What role do you think they would play in this situation?

I know that Tammy has several connections with nearby counties that have created boards in the past and I know that there are a few of them that have active working boards. Tammy would not be in favor of just an oversight board. This board would need to be active in the workings of an election. Tammy would have more insight into that than I would. I understand your concern and I respect it. I do not want to create a problem or burden for the county and that is why I am advocating for this board. With the increase of the workload in my office, if the elections remain, I will be forced to add staff in the coming years or worse, I will make a mistake because I am trying to do to much at one time. Both of these outcomes will cost the county more money. Tammy and I are already doing duplicate work at times. Because we are both trying to be sure that elections are ran the best they can be, we sometimes do the same task when it only needs to be done once. We both are responding to emails and phones calls at the same time, we both are trying to fix the same problem at the same time. We both attend training and we both have budgets related to elections. As you know, I have a Probate Judge budget and an Election budget. If there was a board appointed, Tammy could combine her Registrar budget with the Election budget and therefore eliminate one?

Chastain also offered a final paragraph in response. He stated,

I truly want what is best for Gilmer County. If I didn’t I would have just ask the Commissioners for additional compensation or additional staff. I feel the best thing that could be done right now is to form a board of registration and elections and put people in place to protect our elections by having people able to provide supervision 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year. Thank you again for seriously considering this proposal. If you have any follow up questions, please feel free to let me know. I look forward to hearing the discussion tomorrow morning.

As previously reported, the Board of Commissioners have yet to make an official resolution, but have been actively discussing and debating the make-up and the way they would like to create a board, indicating that they are likely to move forward with the establishing of such an entity. The coming months will see more details fleshed out on the topic and should provide a clearer picture on specifically how the county will move forward with this item.

Additionally, the Probate Office is set to finish out this year following up on the most recent elections, should anything arise. Chastain agreed with Commissioners about taking time to create the new Election Board. He did request, however, to have the board in place before the beginning preparations of the 2022 Governor’s race are needed.

Board of Registrars could become the Board of Elections

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Discussions are continuing amongst the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners and the Gilmer County Probate Office over the introduction and creation of a Board of Elections in the county.

Still hesitant, the commissioners went deeper into talks over the possibility of an Elections Board including make-up and representation on the board. During discussions, the board made reference to representatives from both the republican and democrat parties. However, they did not mention including representatives from third parties in the meeting.

The board did mention third party representation in a previous meeting’s discussion, but did not refresh that sentiment in January through their discussion over the topic. All three commissioners did indicate their hesitation in moving forward quickly with the agenda item, meaning more discussion is likely to come before they have any final or official decisions on the board.

Scott Chastain, Elections,

Gilmer County Probate Judge Scott Chastain

Probate Judge Scott Chastain continued to ask the Commissioners for their consideration and urged the importance of having a Board of Elections in the county, especially considering the major issues the country has seen in the most recent elections. Chastain noted the sheer amount of work involved in elections indicating that it was too much for his office and that he wants to rid the Probate Office of all Elections involvement.

Chastain said in the meeting, “I don’t know that it’s a problem for the citizens of Gilmer County as much as it is a problem for my office.”

He asserted the growing weight of Gilmer’s population and growth, saying that increased growth means and increase in the volume of work for his office during elections.

Chastain also repeated the appearance of possible impropriety of having the elected position of a Probate Judge involved in elections including ones he is running in. He said that in such situations as those he is running in, he has to pay someone to watch over the elections process because he legally can’t be involved, yet he is still held responsible should any issues arise.

January provided a prime example of such a situation where Chastain removes himself from the process. The January 5, 2021, runoff election concluded rather smoothly, despite some early issues with voting machines in one precinct, according to Chief Registrar and Elections Manager Tammy Watkins.

Elections

Gilmer County Chief Registrar Tammy Watkins

Throughout the night after polls closed, as FYN spent the night present in the Probate Office reporting results, Watkins worked diligently with Associate Judge Tracey Teague and members of Elections, the Probate Office, and Registrar’s Office. Much of the staff was present, with 6 people counting absentee ballots and four others running the counting machines. Yet, Judge Chastain did not appear.

Chastain recently appointed Associate Judge Teague for exactly such situations. As stated in previous Commissioner Meetings and the 2021 Budget meetings, having an Associate Judge would cover situations when Judge Chastain is unavailable due to trianing, meetings, or other circumstances. This came partially at the suggestion of the Council of Probate Judges as many Judges were being quarantined or sent home due to positive COVID tests and exposures, including Judge Chastain.

As the elections superintendent, Probate Judge Chastain is more of an overseer to the elections process with staff of the two offices being the ones who do the counting and processing.

Discussions continued amongst the commissioners and Chastain with indications pointing towards the county going forward with the creation of an elections board. However, rather than rushing through local legislation to put this in, Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said that they will likely take the time to fully flesh out the creation of a board and all the details involved before taking it to state representatives to be put into local legislation. Even with this push, indications pointed that with an early enough vote in the 2022 legislation, Gilmer could be converted into a Board of Elections before the Governor’s Race next year.

Elections

Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris

Paris went on to say to Watkins that she should take it as a compliment that the board wants to go slow with the process and understand it as meaning that they have been pleased with the handling of the elections and don’t feel the need to rush into a change.

Originally, Chastain came to the Board of Commissioners with two options, creation of an Elections Board or an increase to his stipend for elections work. As such, Watkins was briefly considered to simply take over the Elections Superintendent position in his stead. More recently, the BOC seems entirely focused on a Board rather than a single person.

However, Watkins is still proving to be a top candidate in replacing Chastain in some form. Looking at other counties, it was noted during the meeting that some have the Chief Registrar as Chairperson of the Board of Elections, others have the board selecting the Chief Registrar who operates under that board.

Some comments even seemed to point that the county could consider consolidating the Board of Registrars into the Board of Elections, but, again, details have not been fully confirmed or set on how Gilmer County will create theirs.

The fact is, counties all across Georgia have created and operate their boards in many different fashions. A fact not lost on Gilmer’s BOC as they acknowledged early in the meeting that if the state moves to force every county to adopt a Board of Elections, they could create required standards or structure.

Moving forward, each of the commissioners noted how important or how big of a change this will be for Gilmer County. While it was said that citizens will not see any difference in polls or operations from their point of view, it will entirely change how Gilmer County runs its elections and how it operates internally during the process.

As always, citizens are welcome in the Commissioner’s monthly meetings as well as directly contacting the office of the Board of Commissioners.

New elected officials sworn in for Gilmer before 2021

Election 2020, News
Sworn

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Among the final acts for Gilmer County’s government in 2020 comes the official swearing in for elected positions. Now that the local elections have long since completed and been finalized, these officials are preparing to take office as soon as January 1, 2021, now that they have been sworn in.

Sworn

Doug Pritchett, left, receives his oath of office from Probate Judge Scott Chastain, right.

While many positions were re-elections like Hubert Parker moving from the special elected term to fill in for the remaining term of former Commissioner Dallas Miller, others are fresh faces in new positions like Gilmer Magistrate Judge Kevin Johnson.

In the realm of the Board of Education, new members Joe Pflueger and Michael Parks met with Probate Judge Scott Chastain to take their oaths on Friday, December 18, 2020. Additionally, Doug Pritchett also renewed his oath of office as he was re-elected after filling in for the remaining time of the previous term.

Sworn

Michael Parks, left, receives his oath of office from Probate Judge Scott Chastain, right.

Two weeks before the new year and their own first days in the position, they met in Courtroom D of the Gilmer County Courthouse for a ceremony with close friends and relatives. Owing to the virus and procedures against it, each brought a very small group to witness the event.

Doug Pritchett was sworn in under oath with his wife, Lynne Pritchett, holding the bible for him.

Michael Parks was sworn in under oath with his wife, Donna Parks, holding the bible for him.

Sworn

Joe Pflueger, left, receives his oath of office from Probate Judge Scott Chastain, right.

Joe Pflueger was sworn in under oath with his wife, Jeris Pflueger, holding the bible for him.

Each member swore two oaths, one for the office and the responsibilities associated with it, and another as a loyalty oath to people and the government,

Chastain told FYN that these would be the final oaths as he had previously administered much of the other renewals during the same day.

Kevin Johnson, left, receives his oath of office from Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver, right.

However, Kevin Johnson, newly elected Magistrate Judge of Gilmer County, received his oath of office on Thursday, December 17, 2020. He was sworn in by Judge Brenda Weaver in the presence of current Magistrate Judge Roger Kincaid and Probate Judge Scott Chastain.

 

County budget pushes Probate-Elections debate to next year

Election, News
Elections

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Among budget discussions, the County’s Board of Commissioners revisited a major topic of discussion in recent months over elections in the county and what office or board should oversee them.

While approving an increase for Tracey Teague as she was appointed Associate Judge, the county has not settled on a decision on how to move forward with elections within the Probate Court Office, Registrar’s Office, and the possibility of an Election’s Board.

While the BOC stated it understands the importance of this subject to the Probate Court, Chairman Charlie Paris questioned saying, “I think the decision we have to make is how important is it to the county as a whole.”

Paris stated that he was speaking only personally when he noted that he has not found an Election Board configuration that he liked for Gilmer.

Additionally, adding an additional Election Board would increase the budget to fund that board. While the Probate Judge, Scott Chastain, receives a stipend for being Elections Superintendent of $4,500, Paris said a full election board would increase above that.

Scott Chastain

Probate Judge Scott Chastain

The board said collectively that they understood the impact and added stress of having the elections in his office as well as some concerns of the running and operating the elections that he also is running for his position in.

Post Commissioner Hubert Parker pointed out some community response as citizens have spoken with him saying that they debated the point saying he knew the elections were a part of the job when he first ran for office.

An alternative to an election board, the commissioners discussed increasing the stipend for Chastain to continue overseeing the elections. An idea Chastain himself brought up in a county meeting previously.

While the entire Probate Office operates and is used for elections through their office, the Commissioners discussed that much of the detailed work and oversight is undertaken by Chief Registrar Tammy Watkins. Elections, in essence, is already overflowing out of the Probate Office into Registrars. However, this is nothing new. Watkins has been working on elections in some degree for years, reaching back into the previous Probate Judge Anita Mullins.

The difference since those previous years has come as Watkins went from simply working on elections, to overseeing large portions of the process as Chief Registrar. Early Voting is completely undertaken in the Registrar’s Office at the courthouse, Watkins has also spoken recently with the second recount that was called for Georgia elections about the work she and staff has undertaken.

Chief Registrar Tammy Watkins

Increasing the stipend for Probate Judge Scott Chastain as overall Superintendent would increase his pay for that process, but would not change much in the office as far as the operations. However, creating an Elections Board would increase more costs for the county as they establish an entire board for oversight.

A comment from Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson brought up another avenue explored previously by the board as she again questioned appointing another person as Election Superintendent. Previously, Watkins, as the county’s Chief Registrar, was considered to take the position of Elections Superintendent and, possibly, move the stipend from Probate Judge to Chief Registrar. Previous concerns over the election superintendent not being an elected position brought up questions about the position’s responsibility and how they answer to the people.

The commissioners agreed that they understood that the Chastain shoulders a lot of responsibility as the Elections Superintendent, and respected the request for something to be done. As discussion continued, the Commissioners opted to continue and finish out the current elections “as is.”

Moving forward, the commissioners will revisit the conversation in 2021 to take action on the item before the next big elections coming in 2022. Paris said that he wants to look into the subject and revisit the subject on a timetable rather than just leaving the item in discussion at every single commissioner’s meeting.

Teague sworn in as Associate Probate Judge

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Teague

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Though Gilmer County Probate Judge has said he would be appointing her, and although the move was approved by the Gilmer Board of Commissioners, taking the oath of office is the final step, and the official step, for Gilmer County Probate Court Associate Judge Tracey A. Teague in taking on the position in the coming year.

Tracy Teague

Tracy Teague

Judge Scott Chastain said, “She will assume that new role on January 1, 2021. As it stands now, if something happens to me and I am unable to continue my duties as the Probate Judge, the probate office would be left without someone to continue the day to day operations.”

Tracey A. Teague has been an employee of the Probate Office for over 6 years and previously worked for Judge Mullins. She served as the Chief Clerk for Judge Mullins and currently serves in that same role for Judge Chastain. She is a 1992 Gilmer County graduate, she is married to Bobby Teague and has two children, Taylor and Boston.

Chastain previously called Teague a “Lifesaver” in April of last year after her aid in his transition into the office. Now he continued saying, “Tracey has been a tremendous asset to this office and I truly appreciate all she has done to assist me in making the Probate Office in Gilmer County one of the best in Georgia.”

With this oath, as previously reported when Chastain said he wanted to appoint Teague to this position, this will allow Teague to not only step up as the Chief Clerk, but as the actual judge in situations where Chastain is unavailable, in training, or incapacitated. Some might find it strange to think of such contingencies. However, this has already become reality for Gilmer’s Probate Office.

Gilmer County Courthouse

Chastain said, “Back in July when I tested positive for COVID-19, I was not allowed to enter the courthouse for nearly a month. During that time, we got behind on a few things. Across the state of Georgia, Probate Courts were hit pretty hard by the virus and unfortunately, we lost three of our Probate Judges and other probate court staff. It was during this time, the Council for Probate Judges suggested that we all look at the possibility of something happening to us and what it would do to our office and citizens of the county.”

With that suggestion, Chastain began looking at his options and at those serving in clerk capacities under him. Those clerks have already achieved a great deal in the office, according to Chastain who just celebrated state certification for two more clerks as well as that making every clerk in the office certified. At the same time, he is moving forward after administering the oaths and responsibilities to Teague.

Chastain said, “By law, the Probate Judge has the authority to appoint an Associate Judge. It requires that the Probate Judge seek approval of that appointment from the governing body of the county. A few weeks ago, I sent a request to the Board of Commissioners asking them to approve the appointment of Tracey A. Teague. They approved my request at a public meeting on October 28, 2020.”

Gilmer Probate recognizes Clerks state certification

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County’s Probate Office has recognized achievements for two of its clerks as they have reached 90 hours of state training to become “Certified Probate Clerks.”

Clerks

Probate Clerk Jennifer West, right, receives her certification from Gilmer Probate Judge Scott Chastain, left.

Probate Judge Scott Chastain presented both Jennifer Carney and Jennifer West with certificates for their state certification at a ceremony this week.

Chastain said, “Carney is a deputy probate clerk who focuses most of her time on probate matters, but is also very capable of doing just about anything that needs to be done in the office. West is a deputy probate clerk who focuses most of her time assisting citizens with general questions, marriage licenses, weapon carry licenses, paying traffic citations, death and birth certificates and many other duties at the front window.”

The training is administered and approved by the Institute of Continuing Judicial Education and the Council of Probate Judges. Chastain noted last year that these programs offer a recognition for 30 hours and 60 hours of training for the program.

Speaking to both Carney and West, Chastain said, “I am extremely proud of these ladies and their tremendous accomplishment.”

Clerks

Probate Clerk Jennifer Carney, right, receives her certification from Gilmer Probate Judge Scott Chastain, left.

While this week celebrated and recognized these two clerks for their accomplishments, this day also represents another step for the Probate Office. In April 2019, Judge Chastain stated a goal that he wanted to have all five staff members state certified.

Now, with the completion of the 90-hour certification program, Gilmer County now has all five of the probate clerks state certified. This is includes Jennifer Carney, Jana Grno, Lyndsay Hightower, Tracey Teague, and Jennifer West. The previous three, Jana Grno, Tracey Teague, and Lyndsay Hightower, were recognized last April.

With this, according to Chastain, there are currently 12 Probate Offices in the state of Georgia that have all of their clerk’s state certified. However, Chastain added, “I believe Gilmer County is the only county in Georgia that has a staff of five and all of them are certified.”

Chastain seeks Election Board instead of Probate Office for elections

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Election Board

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Amid budget talks and election recounts, Gilmer County Probate Judge Scott Chastain is continuing seeking to move elections out of the Probate Office and to an alternative, like an election board.

Scott Chastain

Scott Chastain, Probate Judge of Gilmer County

The issue has been broached in budget talks over recent years as the number of Probate Judges’ in Georgia remaining as elections superintendents has decreased. Chastain has requested that Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners take steps now to move elections to be run by an appointed board.

Chastain commented in the Commissioners November meeting saying, “I think with 23,500, plus or minus, registered voters in Gilmer County and 16,500 or so of those voting in this last election, Gilmer County has risen to the level of population where it is very difficult, I believe, for me to continue to do what I do as a Probate Judge and put on a hat as an Election Superintendent as well. It has always bothered me, too, that I am in control of elections in a county that I run for office. I am on the ballot. To me, that is a conflict…”

Rising debates from the commissioners explored ideas of a three-person-board versus a five-person-board as well as the idea of appointing a new election superintendent that isn’t the Probate Judge. They immediately questioned such a position and its accountability, but did consider options from other public positions either elected or appointed by the county.

Chastain himself suggested at one point that the Board of Commissioners consider creating the Board of Elections within the Registrar’s Office and possibly including Chief Registrar Tammy Watkins on the board or as the superintendent. The sentiment was later partly echoed by Board of Voter Registration member Sherri Jones who offered her personal opinion saying that she would also like to see the elections join with the Registrar’s Office.

Election Board

Probate Judge Sott Chastain speaks to Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners about elections and moving them out of the Probate Office.

Chastain urged the commissioners to take action on creating a Board of Elections before the increasing numbers of counties moving to a board creates state pressure. He said that he wanted to work with the county on building it with them the way they wanted it before a state legislation comes and mandates the move. A direction that he strongly feels is coming in the future and a legislation that he said he would likely support if brought up. It is a sentiment that he feels many other probate judges would share. He also added that he did not, personally, believe that the Council of Probate Judges would oppose it.

Already researching legislations from other counties that have created an election board, Chastain presented this research as well as a plea to reconsider the idea that has seen no fruition to this point. Noting that there are 32 counties left in Georgia that still have the Probate Judge overseeing the elections including Gilmer. He stated that 28 0f the remaining 31 judges (not counting Gilmer) in the state that still oversee elections want it removed from their office.

Chastain said, “It’s a matter of time before, I think, the state does that.”

The board has still not taken action on the subject as it was brought up during Citizens Wishing to Speak section and not on the agenda. However, the Board of Commissioners did look to put the item on the December agenda for further consideration and possible action through options like a new superintendent or an election board.

Probate Court gets Associate Judge

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ELLIJAY, GA. – Gilmer County’s Probate Court Judge Scott Chastain is naming a new Associate Judge in the office.

Tracey Teague was the name mentioned during meetings as Chastain began speaking with the Board of Commissioners about the promotion to fill in for him in certain situations. He also said that he was told he had to bring the request to the Board of Commissioners as the position normally comes with a pay increase along with an increase in responsibilities. Because of the pay increase, it becomes a budgetary issue.

Tracy Teague, Judge

Gilmer County Probate Court Associate Judge Tracey Teague

Chastain said that he needed the Associate Judge for times when he may be away for training courses or other matters requiring him to be out of the county. He told the Commissioners that he, historically, has had the Pickens County Probate Judge fill in in times like this. However, with the recent virus outbreak, several Probate Judges have been exposed to COVID and a statewide recommendation has suggested that Probate Offices consider appointing someone to this position so that there will be support as well as a clear fill-in should something happen or to cover the possibility of a death.

The position is appointed by Chastain serves at his leisure and can be replaced whenever the Judges wishes. However, initial appointment and establishment of the position goes back to the previously mentioned budgetary requirements for the board.

Scott Chastain, Judge

Gilmer County Probate Judge Scott Chastain

Also, the appointment shall only last as long as he stays in office, the new Judge could decide and appoint a new associate as they wish.

Teague, since approved, will step in a serve whenever Chastain requests for her to fill in due to an absence. A prime example of such needs came mere months ago when Scott Chastain tested positive for COVID-19. In that situation, it would have fallen to Teague to carry on until he returned.

The approval for Teague came with a caveat that the position was approved. But the Board made comments that the position’s pay increase would be put in with the budget requests as normal and was not approved in the same motion.

Teague was announced as Judge Chastain’s Chief Clerk in 2019 and had already served as Chief Clerk under Judge Mullins. She handles much of the requirements in traffic court, and Chastain previously that he already uses her as Chief Clerk for certain administration needs when he is out of the office.

Gilmer and Fannin Extend Judicial Emergency under order of Chief Judge

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order

UPDATE: New State Order extends public health guidelines in courts

The state level executive order from Judge Harold D. Melton, as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia, is extending health guidelines and requirements for in person hearings and allowing remote proceedings.

The order extending the declaration of a judicial emergency states:

Courts in Georgia have continued to perform essential functions despite the pandemic. The May 11 extension order also encouraged courts to work diligently to address the backlog of pending cases on a case-bycase basis, and the June 12 extension order announced a plan to reimpose as of July 14 many of the deadlines imposed by law on litigants in civil and criminal cases that have been suspended, tolled, or extended since the initial March 14 Order.

and…

As has been the direction since the original Order, all Georgia courts must continue to conduct proceedings, remotely or in-person, in compliance with public health guidance, applicable statutes and court rules, and the requirements of the United States and Georgia Constitutions, including the public’s right of access to judicial proceedings and a criminal defendant’s rights to confrontation and an open courtroom. All courts should continue to use and increase the use of technology to conduct remote judicial proceedings as a safer alternative to in-person proceedings, unless required by law to be in person or unless it is not practicable for technical or other reasons for persons participating in the proceeding to participate remotely. This order further delineates the health precautions required for all in-person judicial proceedings and specifies that courts must adopt operating guidelines consistent with the Georgia Court Reopening Guide and any more specific local public health guidance.

While Gilmer is currently in lock-down for cleaning and sanitizing today, Officials are reportedly set to decide the status of Gilmer’s Courthouse and proceedings for the near future on Monday, July 13, 2020, as they seek more information and potential testing until then.

 

Original Post:

NORTH GEORGIA – Both Gilmer and Fannin have received a new order entitled “Amended Third Order Extending Declaration of Judicial Emergency” closing and requiring deep cleaning for offices in the courthouses of both counties.

The order, sign by Superior Court Chief Judge Brenda Weaver of the Appalachian Judicial Circuit, states that a number of courthouse employees are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 and are awaiting testing results. Due to this the Chief Judge conferred with Board of Commissioner (BOC) Chairmen from each county and has declared the situation beyond the ability to continue with regular work.

The court has ordered that the counties deep clean and keep closed the following offices:

  • Fannin County Superior Court Judge
  • Fannin County Juvenile Court Judge
  • Fannin County Clerk of Superior and Juvenile Courts
  • Fannin County Probate Court
  • Fannin County Magistrate Court
  • Fannin County District Attorney
  • Fannin County CASA
  • Gilmer County Superior Court Judge
  • Gilmer County Juvenile Court Judge
  • Gilmer County Clerk of Superior and Juvenile Courts
  • Gilmer County Probate Court
  • Gilmer County Magistrate Court
  • Gilmer County District Attorney
  • Gilmer County Misdemeanor Probation
  • Gilmer County CASA

Additionally, Gilmer County has also closed the offices of the Gilmer County Tax Assessor and the Gilmer County Tax Commissioner. These offices are also ordered to perform a deep cleaning and remain closed until further orders are given.

Just as with the previous Judicial Emergency Orders, Remote Videoconference hearings are being utilized and scheduled. The order states that all other provisions of the previous order are still in effect.

This all comes after the announcements of some of Gilmer and Fannin Elected Officials and Courts closing earlier today due to COVID-19 exposures.

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Election Results delayed as polls remain open in Gilmer

Election, Election 2020
qualifying, polls

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer’s Probate Office has issued an order for polls to remain open late tonight due to issues this morning.

According to Elections Manager and Chief Registrar Tammy Watkins shared that the order saying they will hold Big Creek open until 7:20 p.m., Boardtown open until 7:15 p.m., Cartecay open until 7:05 p.m., Cherry Log open until 7:15 p.m., Ellijay South open until 7:30 p.m., Tails Creek open until 7:30 p.m.

The order states that these polls are remaining open due to issues that prevented the polls from opening on time this morning. “Because of equipment issues that were not caused by Petitioners and which were beyond the control of Petitioners,” says the order.

Because Georgia law guarantees a twelve-hour window for citizens to cast their votes, the order states that all voters shall cast their votes in this extended time via provisional ballot only. These ballots will be kept separate from other provisional ballots. Probate Judge Scott Chastain commented saying the provisional ballots are required by law due to federal offices on the ballot.

The extension will cause a delay in election results for tonight, but results will be tallied after closings as normal.

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Probate offers guidance to policies during COVID-19

Press Release
Probate Office

 

 

Gun Permits frozen under Judicial Order

News
Gun Permits

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Under last Friday’s Judicial Order from Chief Judge Brenda Weaver over court processes and business, Probate Judge Scott Chastain clarified today that new gun permits and applications will not be accepted until the order ends on April 11, 2020, according to the order.

Due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19), and in an effort to “keep people from coming to the courthouse,” Chastain said that he originally was going to continue as normal on permits, but as the order halts non-essential duties. The process includes citizens going to other offices in the Sheriff’s Office for fingerprinting as well.

Chastain did further explain that those permits already in process will be sent through the mail, so those already in process should not worry about not getting theirs. Additionally, Chastain said that to help those who might expire under the freeze, they, too, should not worry as he will be including expirations in the freeze as well.

What this means is that if your permit expires while the freeze is in effect, it will still be considered valid until the freeze concludes and new permits and renewals are accepted again.

Chastain said, “We’re going to freeze that time frame so you’re not carrying around an invalid permit until this order has ended.”

He went on to say he has had discussions with other judges and sheriff’s associations about the Gun Permits and temporarily denying the new permits.

Additionally, the Probate Court offices are supposed to be putting out a list of the essential duties they will be maintaining such as marriage licenses, later today. FYN has requested a copy and will be posting these when available.

 

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Current Magistrate Judge Ken Roberts Announces Candidacy for Gilmer County Chief Magistrate

News
Current Magistrate Judge Ken Roberts Announces Candidacy for Gilmer County Chief Magistrate

Ken and his wife, Karen, have called the Coosawattee neighborhood home for thirteen years and describe Gilmer County in one sentence: “Friendship with a sense of community.”

Ken’s public service career began with a five-year tour in the United States Air Force, followed by a fire service career in Central Florida, where he retired as Assistant Fire Chief after 25 years.

His public service career continued with the Seminole County Department of Public Safety, serving first as the Public Information Officer, then as County Emergency Management Director, and retiring as the Director of Public Safety. All of these positions involved coordination with county, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, as well as the navigation of county-level government operations.

Ken currently serve as a Magistrate Judge for Gilmer County. He has served the Magistrate Court – which is often referred to as “the People’s Court” – with one simple philosophy: Do the right thing, always. This approach has served Gilmer County well, earned him the respect of the local law-enforcement community, and proven to be especially valuable when dealing with citizens coming to court for the first time.

Ken is running for Chief Magistrate in order to continue applying his philosophy of fairness, respect, and always doing the right thing; and would appreciate your vote.

For more information, visit electkenroberts.com

Judicial Order closes Courts in the Appalachian District

News
Judicial Order, Brenda Weaver, Chief Judge, Judge,

GILMER, Ga. – An order declaring a Judicial Emergency has been released from Chief Judge Brenda Weaver was filed today in Gilmer County regarding civil and/or criminal court proceedings in the Appalachian Judicial Circuit (Gilmer, Fannin, Pickens counties).

The order states, “The nature of this emergency is the continued transmission of the Coronavirus/COVID-19 throughout the State of Georgia and the potential infection of those who are required to appear in our courts and interact with large groups due to jury service, including grand jury service, or other large, non-essential calendars.”

As for the cases slated for next week, the order states, “It is the order of the Court that jury trials are CONTINUED, and no jurors or grand jurors shall report, and no jury trials shall be held for a period of 30 days from the date of the entry of this order.”

The order charges all parties and attorneys in specially-set hearings between March 13, 2020, and April 11, 2020, to contact the assigned judge for directions.

The order provides this list of the Amended 2020 Superior Court Calendar in that same time frame:

Additionally, the order calls for attorneys and clients to report and notify each other of any sign or showing of symptoms of illness, even mild ones, prior to or after court as well as any contact or exposure to a Coronavirus positive individual. The attorneys should then contact the judge’s office if this occurs.

The order also states a list of people that “shall not enter Pickens, Gilmer, or Fannin Courthouse or any probation office Pickens, Gilmer, or Fannin Counties, without prior permission from the Chief Judge.” Those people include:

  • Persons who have been in any of the following countries or regions within the last 14 days:
    STATE OF WASHINGTON
    NEW ROCHELLE, NEW YORK
    CHINA
    SOUTH KOREA
    JAPAN
    ITALY
    IRAN
    EGYPT

  • Persons who reside or have had close contact with someone who has been in one of the countries listed above within the last 14 days;

  • Persons who have been asked to self-quarantine by any doctor, hospital, or health agency;

  • Persons who have been diagnosed within, or have had contact with, anyone who has been diagnosed with Coronavirus (COVID-19);

The order charges Sheriff’s offices in these counties to deny entry to those in violation of this order. It also gives guidance to those under this order’s restrictions on the steps to take. Read the full Judicial Order below:

 

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Probate Court celebrates certifications

Featured Stories

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Probate Court honored three of its clerks for their state certifications this week.

Gilmer County's Probate Judge Scott Chastain

Gilmer County’s Probate Judge Scott Chastain

A process that began with former Probate Judge Anita Mullins, these employees have served for years in the court system and have completed training programs within the system under Judge Scott Chastain.

The three ladies recognized are Jana Grno, Tracy Teague, and Lyndsay Hightower. Chastain says that recognition is given for 30 hours and 60 hours of training for the program, but he wanted to do something special as each of these women now have 90 hours, the final stage of the program and actual certification.

Jana Grno will have been with the Gilmer Probate for five years next week on April 21. Focusing on the vital records and weapons permits now, Chastain says there is very little she cannot do in the Probate Court as she also assists in traffic court. She is also the longest running employee in the Probate Office in Gilmer County.

Tracy Teague will reach her 5 years with the Probate Court this September. Chastain calls Teague a “lifesaver” as he transitioned in the office. He says she was and is constantly there every time he calls for anything the office needs.

From left to right, Lyndsay Hightower, Tracy Teague, and Jana Grno receive their state certificates in Gilmer's Probate Office.

From left to right, Lyndsay Hightower, Tracy Teague, and Jana Grno receive their state certificates in Gilmer’s Probate Office.

Teague has recently been announced as Judge Chastain’s Chief Clerk. Teague had already served as Chief Clerk under Judge Mullins and continues this service now that Chastain has asked her as well. She handles much of the requirements in traffic court, and Chastain says he uses her as Chief Clerk for certain administration needs when he is out of the office.

Lyndsay Hightower was hired into the Probate Court on August 30, 2016. She serves in the front window of the Probate Office, she is the main probate clerk of the office according to Chastain. He noted that he has basically asked her to take on the work of two clerks and she continues to work hard under the stress. With previous experience in law enforcement, he says Hightower brings a different view to the office alongside her coworkers.

Former Gilmer County Probate Judge Anita Mullins

Former Gilmer County Probate Judge Anita Mullins

Mullins was also present at the celebration for her former employees. She offered a few words on the occasion as she stated, “They worked so hard for me. They were such a blessing because I was going through, at the end, a lot of family issues with my parents. If it hadn’t have been for these girls, I don’t know what I would have done. They are so smart, and they are so capable. I know that they are going to continue on and do great things.”

Both Mullins and Chastain made comments about how little the public gets to see just how much work goes on in the office behind the public sight. Accomplishing the vast amount of work necessary for the office to operate efficiently is next to impossible without the proper staff.

Chastain went on to say that with two other employees in the office, he hopes to become one of the few Probate Offices in the state of Georgia with every clerk state certified in the coming years.

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