ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County is celebrating a five-year-long project completion today with the opening of the Downtown Welcome Center in Ellijay, Georgia.
A new branch for the Chamber and a “needed presence” downtown according to community leaders like Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris and Gilmer Chamber President Paige Green, this new building will work across town from the Chamber home office and welcome center on Craig Street, just off of Highway 515 between the Waffle House and Advance Auto Parts.
Today’s celebration marks the completion of the preparations and renovations, according to Green, who said the day also serves as the beginning of the Chamber’s return to downtown. A “homecoming” of sorts as the Chamber has been in the Watkins House before, located on the downtown square next to the courthouse.
Green said it wasn’t only the Chamber’s efforts, but a collective involving the Chamber, the Board of Commissioners, and State Legislative involvement from Georgia Speaker of the House of Representatives David Ralston. This alliance’s dedication has pushed the project across the year’s to come to today’s fruition.
While that dedication has stretched five years since conversations first began about the Chamber re-opening the Watkins House as a Welcome Center, Green noted that the Board of Directors’ recent Chairman Trent Sanford and current Chairman John Marshall have made the major push through these last two years to begin and finish the actual renovations on the building.
As a part of the Chamber’s return to downtown, Green said publicly that the Chamber is planning more downtown events through their new center and extended hours. She stated, “We do intend to be open Wednesday through Saturday. We want to be a leader in hoping that our merchants will join with us in opening until six or seven o’clock to greet our guests on the weekends as well.”
Green went on to say that the Downtown Center will also be opened for meeting space needs, or for those visitors who simply need a place to sit and rest. She wants the Downtown Welcome Center to be open in this sense for both tourists and locals.
The celebration also saw visits from each of the Gilmer County Commissioners, Chairman Charlie Paris and Post Commissioners Dallas Miller and Karleen Ferguson, as well as Speaker Ralston. Paris offered his thanks to Ralston as well saying that without his help, the community might still be waiting for a downtown center.
Paris spoke about the many “dominoes” that needed to fall in order to accomplish what they have. From relocating the Planning and Zoning Office on the other side of the square to needing help from the Department of Transportation and Ralston for logistics. Paris praised the Chamber and community volunteers and merchants who were integral in making the Welcome Center look as amazing as it does now.
Ralston also offered a few words as he congratulated the county on the facility. He spoke about the history of the Watkins House and its journey through generations and his personal memories of hanging out at the courthouse and walking past the Watkins House everyday after school. Ralston went on to note the significance of the statement the Chamber is making to the citizens of Ellijay and the investment they are making in the community.
However, the day held more meaning than most understood, as they sipped wine from local vineyards and snacked of food from local restaurants, one family shared a moment around a special picture as former Chamber Director Brenda Davis, the lady in the picture, returned to her former offices and joined the celebrations of the changes and growth the building has seen since her last days in it.
The photo, taken in the early 90’s according to Davis. She said it feels good to be back in the building as she pointed out the meetings she held in the large front room and secretary’s office in the room with her photo. She recalled how here entire family got recruited to “volunteer” for events and needs when she held the office and the Welcome Center was there. She chuckled as she pointed out she had an intern, at the time, named Sandy Ott. Now working for University of North Georgia and its expansion campus, Davis recalls her working for the Gilmer Chamber stuffing fliers and mailers for the Chamber.
Davis also recalled a special memory at the Watkins House as they prepared for the Olympics in Atlanta. Davis said it was two years prior and Gilmer was hosting visitors from all over the world. They had received one foreign visitor whose interpreter was not available. He sat on the square as C Lloyd Smith began speaking with him and trying to make him happy with his visit despite the lack of a translator. Davis recalls Smith trying so hard to make this visitor feel welcome despite the major hurdle of language.
Memories like this are built into the bricks of the Watkins House. It seems anyone who lived or worked in Ellijay at the time has some memory tied to the building. As the Chamber returns to its former home, employees, citizens, and even those who no longer live in the county, will return with them to revisit old times, old memories, and tie them together with a new gateway in our community and new visitors creating new memories.
Chairman of the Gilmer Chamber’s Board of Directors, John Marshall offered his thanks for the legacy and the generosity that the Watkins’ family showed years ago when they had donated the building for the public good. Marshall stated, “It is altogether fitting and appropriate that the formerly private residence of this pioneer and progressive family has been transformed into a place to welcome the public.”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Mountain View Elementary (MVE) school hosted the Georgia Speaker of the House, Rep. David Ralston, on Thursday, October 4, as part of the Georgia Pre-k Week program.
Originally launched in 1992, Georgia Pre-K is a lottery-funded program serving four-year-olds in the state regardless of parental income. After almost losing the program to cuts in 2010, the Pre-K Week celebration was created to emphasize the importance of quality early childhood education by providing opportunities for leaders to engage with pre-k classrooms in their local communities.
Ralston’s visit came to MVE in its second year of the return to pre-school classes at their location. Visiting both pre-k classrooms, he read Behind the Little Red Door in Katlin Johnston’s class and Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons in Gina Brock’s class.
Having previously visited Ellijay Primary school year’s ago, his return to the new location is made possibly by Gilmer County’s L4GA Grant providing supplemental literacy funds to the education system. A part of the grant, the “Birth-to-5 piece,” is the major part of increasing literacy and putting books into the hands of kids at home. By extensions, educators hope to build the language skills and development for not only those children, but also to other younger children in the household as well.
Gilmer’s Pre-K Director Katrina Kingsley told FYN this is usually an annual event to host lawmaker’s in our schools and allow them firsthand knowledge of what’s going on in these classrooms. Kingsley asserted the importance of programs like this as it not only educates lawmakers on our schools, but the grant and program allow pre-k teachers to affect even more students. Just as the body needs food and nourishment, Kingsley said these kids need “nourishment for the brain.
Check out more photos of the event at FYN’s Facebook Page.
Blue Ridge, Ga. – Many words were used to describe Rick Day as he exited the Fannin County Democratic meeting on July 2: enthusiastic, informed, entertaining, and passionate.
Day, a 62 year old veteran, is the first from the Democratic party to ever challenge the Speaker of the House, David Ralston, for the seat of Georgia House of Representatives District 7.
One key issue of Day’s platform and arguably one that he shows the most passion for is his pro-cannabis stance and the benefits it could bring to North Georgia.
“Somewhere in the 70’s I discovered cannabis, marijuana, and it has been a lifelong love affair with Mary Jane,” Day said about his position.
According to Day, almost 700,000 people have been arrested for minor marijuana possession in Georgia since Ralston’s election to the seat of District 7 in 2002.
“This man is so powerful he could have changed this law,” Day said explaining his take on Ralston’s record. “He only cares about the for-profit prisons that lobby him.”
Day would like to see Georgia move beyond the limited laws passed recently in the state that increased medical marijuana use and see cannabis legalized for recreational use as well.
Stating statistics, Day said that approximately 85 percent of Georgians are in favor of medical marijuana, 70 percent of Republicans are in favor, and 65 percent of Georgians favor cannabis oil.
“If we wait another 10 years, the crops are not going to be worth anything near what it was because it’s going to be so common,” Day spoke of the economic impact of ending the war on marijuana.
Wanting to see both marijuana and hemp become major cash crops for the state of Georgia, Day spoke of the increased tax revenue that this legislation, if passed, would create; up to 1 billion in increased revenue. Day would like to see all citizens of North Georgia benefit from this wealth by using the new revenue to eliminate or dramatically decrease property taxes.
“Thousands of jobs, good, well paying jobs,” Day expanded on the benefits of this move. “Develop the area and work with it, so that it becomes part of our identity without overtaking us.”
“My vision is to turn this (North Georgia) into the Napa Valley of cannabis,” Day enthusiastically spoke of his hope.
Acknowledging other issues facing our area Day said, “There is a growing issue with lack of affordable housing in the district.”
With no shortage of half million dollar homes, Day says that it is very hard to find homes in the $150,000 range where there is an increasingly growing demand.
Offering grants and incentives for builders to construct these more affordable homes is a possible solution that Day sees on this issue.
When it comes to his Republican opponent, Day does not mince words: “Ralston is a con. A bought and paid for conservative. Conservatives are no longer the fiscal stewards they once were or ever represented themselves to be.”
Accusing Ralston of catering to the highest bidder, Day pointed out Ralston’s $400,000 yearly pension and using his position to get his son a lobbying job: “He’s their man. He’s not our man anymore.”
As for Ralston’s impact on his district, Day shared his thoughts on that as well. According to Day, Ralston is a man who holds a position of power in the state of Georgia: “Arguably the most powerful because he’s not tenured with term limits like the governor is, and he can’t even get us one manufacturing center up here. He’s done nothing for this district.”
“I can’t out spend David Ralston. He’s already got $1,000,000 in corporate money in the bank,” Day elaborated on his campaign plans. “I can’t make a lot of promises. I won’t have a lot of political power, but I ain’t David Ralston and I will never be that man.”
Day says that his political platform is simple. Having been shown a kindness when he was a young man, his philosophy is to pay it forward. His litmus test on every issue is “Is this going to be good for our kids? Is this going to be good for our grand-kids?”.
“I oppose the things that are not, and I embrace the things that are good,” Day said of this philosophy.
“I believe in myself and I want you to too,” Day spoke to those gathered to hear his message. “I’m done watching (politics). Now is the time for action. Now is the time to bring David Ralston home.”
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Our 2nd Amendment rights are not up for debate. That’s why I refuse to entertain gun control activists who seek to undermine our safety and compromise the freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. From passing “the most pro-gun bill in state history” to ensuring that students, faculty, and visitors can protect themselves on a college campus, I am proud of my record of defending and expanding our 2nd Amendment Rights.
This election, I am once again endorsed by the NRA – National Rifle Association of America and countless #2A supporters throughout the District. Together, we will stand up for our God-given rights and remain “freedom’s safest place.”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Chamber of Commerce hosted a forum to meet the candidates in Gilmer’s two major elections this year.
First, the Post 2 County Commissioner race saw candidates Karleen Ferguson, Woody Janssen, and Jerry Tuso speak about Gilmer specifically and their own lives and qualifications while 7th District State Representative candidates Rick Day, David Ralston, and Margaret Williamson spoke more generally on Gilmer’s place in the state as a whole and their role as a representative.
Hosted by Gilmer Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Paige Green and Board of Directors Chairman Trent Sanford, the event gave five minutes to each candidate to offer their words to citizens before allowing for time for citizens to mingle and speak face-to-face with them and ask their own questions.
The event kicked off with the candidates for Gilmer County Post 2 Commissioner.
First to speak was Jerry Tuso who offered a few words about his past as a retired air traffic controller and negotiating contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars over his 19 years in the position. As a past chairman of the Gilmer County GOP and eight years of involvement in the party, Tuso stated he has received great support throughout his time from people like Rita Otum and Stephen Aaron among many others. Tuso said he is running for Post 2 because he was raised and told that hard work and studying could make you something. Tuso continued saying, “It wasn’t enough. My father told me, ‘Son, that’s not enough. You’ve got to be a servant as well.’ So, during my entire working career, I have found ways that I can serve. And that’s why I am running, to serve Gilmer County.”
Next to speak was Karleen Ferguson. Ferguson has owned property with her husband in Gilmer County for 20 years, and in 2011, she became the Gilmer County Tourism and Events Coordinator. She noted it as the “funnest job in the world because I got to tell everyone that I knew how wonderful Gilmer County was and encourage them to come visit.” However, Ferguson said she learned in that position the impact of tourism on Gilmer’s community. She noted the Apple Festival’s economic effect on hundreds of families in the county, including the apple growers, but also the families who volunteer and work to earn extra income for their own needs. She connected this with the growing agri-tourism area alongside maximizing the natural resources the county has to offer for both citizens and businesses. Ferguson went on to note the effect that commissioners can have on the economy noting the previous board of Charlie Paris, Dallas Miller, and Travis Crouch and their efforts to replace old systems and catching up their departments to maintain the county. She stated, “We are headed in the right direction, and my intention as your county commissioner is to continue the direction that these gentlemen have been leading us in. I am naturally a problem solver … I am a great team player. I have a passion to protect the history and culture of this community as we grow in a qualitative way.”
The final candidate to speak was Woody Janssen. Living in the county for 12 years, he got out of his major corporate past in national accounts management to settle down locally in Ellijay, where he started a river tubing business. In business since 2009, Janssen said he has been affected by and benefited from what the Board of Commissioners and the Gilmer Chamber have accomplished. Growing out of the recession, he spoke about the growth of the county and his business’ successes in bringing people to the county. It was something he said he wanted to continue in the county. Being so involved in the small business market, Janssen said he hoped to deregulate the county’s small businesses to further expand their growth. Janssen said, “That’s something I’d like to see happen, and I think I can help everybody out. Everybody has done a phenomenal job here locally. I’d like to see less regulation and let’s utilize what we already have.”
With that, the night’s events turned towards the District 7 State Representative election.
First to speak was Rick Day. Running as a Democrat, Day said he hoped citizens were interested in finding out who he was as he came out of nowhere. Day told a story about a job he took on an oil field in central Texas. He said he showed up for work and ran into immediate troubles as the vast majority of his coworkers were Hispanic and did not speak English. Day continued his story saying he was working in his combat boots from his time in the military. The boots began melting in the chemicals. Day said he did not know what to do, feeling alone with boots melting and no way to reach out to family or friends. It was then that his coworkers bought him a new pair of boots simply saying, “Pay it forward.”
It was a touching moment, said Day, who added he rides his motorcycle through our district and sees pockets of poverty, noting 51 percent of this district is employed, meaning that 49 percent are unemployed. With one half of the district “carrying the weight” for the other half, he could only ask how it could happen. Day said, “We are supposed to have leadership in Atlanta. For 10 years, the leadership has gone unchallenged. For 27 years, one person has had the power and authority to make this the number one district in the state … As beautiful as we are, behind the beauty, behind the cake of make-up, there is poverty. There is addiction. There is a quiet desperation.”
It is the quiet desperation that Day said he wants to address. He wants to represent them and increase the economy and growth for all those in the county to answer the “quiet desperation.” Day said the way he intends to pay for that growth and that answer is by adopting the Colorado approach by legalizing cannabis. Day likened the agricultural growth in our region with vineyards to a bridge, saying the next step with cannabis is a massive economic impact and job growth waiting to happen in our region.
Second to speak was Margaret Williamson. Williamson’s background comes from engineering, marketing, and business administration. However, it was her time at home with her children and supporting her husband that Williamson said allowed her the time to become more active in volunteering in the community. This time in our community is what she said gives her the “pulse of the things that are going on in District 7.” She told a story about visiting Abby’s, a local business, for ice cream and frozen yogurt with her grandchildren. As she sat watching them pile as many sprinkles on their ice cream as they could, Williamson said she realized that was the biggest issue for them. She asked herself what their future in our district was?
She commended the Chamber of Commerce in their efforts as well as the agricultural community as the mainstays of our economy. Growing now into vineyards and tourism exemplifies the growth the community has seen. She also noted the commissioners’ efforts in controlling and growing the economy under an annual $4.4 million debt from past irresponsibilities, a debt obligation stretching to 2032. Williamson said, “Our leadership claims that we are the number one state to do business in. So, let’s capitalize on that here in our district. We have more than other parts of Georgia to offer.”
Utilizing our resources, Williamson said we have enough to attract more of smaller, low impact businesses that offer better-paying jobs with advancement. She went on to note that she is running for the position to offer real representation from someone who cares, will work for the people, and will be honest about legislation and how it will affect the people. Williamson said she wants to change the office to be more present in the district besides just for “photo ops” as well as adding a weekly event in the district during session so that citizens can speak to her about legislation and concerns in the state.
The final candidate to speak was Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston. Ralston was born and raised in Gilmer County where he graduated high school. Ralston said it was the community’s help that achieved his successes like $550,000 for the “long overdue completion” of the Clear Creek Ball Fields, $150,000 for the Gilmer County Playhouse, $310,000 for equipping the Gilmer Canning Plant, $250,000 for repairs and renovations to the Gilmer County Library, $283,000 in state funds for improvements to the River Park, and $1,2 million for expansion of the Gilmer County Water System.
Ralston went on to say, “Yes, that is your money, but it was your money that was not coming back to Gilmer County until the last few years. It was going to Atlanta, and it was going to south Georgia. And it was going all over the state, except here.” He also noted that the state has reacted to the change and growth of new industries like wine as well as responses like the hiring of a “viticulturist” so that local wineries don’t have to wait for a professional to come to Georgia from other states to “monitor the effects of weather and disease on grapes.”
Ralston also noted the recent legislative session as the most successful in recent memory. The first cut to the state income tax in history, the ending of austerity cuts to local education in Georgia, and the first reform to Georgia’s adoption law in 30 years were the major points that he utilized to exemplify that success. Ralston noted that despite the successes, there is more work to be done.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Officials from both the county and state met today in Gilmer’s River Park to join with the Gilmer Chamber in officially cutting the ribbon on the new playground at River Park.
Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris and Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch met with Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston for the event celebrating the work of all parties. “The grant from the state really made it all possible,” said Crouch who added that seeing the county with successes like the new playground gives him a sense of accomplishment after the hard work the Board of Commissioners has put into directing the county over the last four years.
Paris took note at the ceremony to thank Kevan White, Gilmer County Recreation and Parks Department Director, for his vision and direction in the project. Despite the project taking a little longer than originally expected due to weather and unexpected costs, Paris said the park looked “more spectacular than I thought it was going to be.” Paris told FYN the entire playground was White’s vision as he took the main brunt of design and layout for something he could not have imagined.
During the ceremony, Speaker Ralston took a moment to say he was proud to have played a small part in the project of the new playground but thanked Chairman Paris and the County for their hard work in making the project a reality, specifically noting White’s leadership role.
Crouch also mentioned a special thanks to the community for their patience in both this project and the county’s progress as a whole. He commented saying, “We had a lot of challenges. I think we’ve turned a corner and are heading in a positive direction on a lot of different
fronts, especially in a financial front. We had to start somewhere, and people have been pretty patient. They’ve understood the situation we’ve had. I feel like progress has been made.”
Paris echoed his sentiments thanking the public for their support and patience in the time up to now as well as in the coming months when the county moves forward on the other projects planned for River Park.
See more details on what’s coming next for the park with FYN’s recent article, “County’s River Park moving closer to upgrades” or check out more photos of the playground as well as a few members of the county enjoying the new equipment on FYN’s Facebook Page.
BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – In a recent interview on FYNTV, Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston made an announcement regarding the University of North Georgia’s (UNG) Blue Ridge campus.
Ralston confirmed in the interview that the state has set $5.5 million into a line item to establish a new standalone “brick and mortar” building for the university. The budgeted funds are set for construction only, meaning that the university will be responsible for locating and acquiring a spot suitable for the new campus. Once the college purchases the location, they can utilize the state funds for their new building to expand into that new home in Fannin County.
As such, the location of this facility is yet to be determined. According to Campus Director of Blue Ridge for UNG, Sandy Ott, she hopes to begin construction as soon as possible. Ott spoke with FetchYourNews (FYN) about the fund allocation saying, “We are thrilled with the opportunity to expand the Blue Ridge campus. We are so excited for the opportunities for the students in our region. This is going to have an impact, truly.”
Ott noted some of the major capabilities that a standalone campus will allow including expanded course offerings, lab spaces for sciences and core classes, as well as development space to cater to the region’s specific needs. While college officials are still searching for the best location at this time, Ott confirmed that they are still very early in the process and uncertain if the new standalone campus will see them completely leaving their current location just off of 515 at 83 Dunbarton Farm Road.
UNG has been at that location since 2015, offering opportunities such as dual-enrollment courses for high school students, a full-time program for first-time freshmen, courses for adult learners getting started or returning to college, and continued education programs.
With the passing of the state’s budget, this is now set for UNG to utilize when available. Ott assures FYN they are moving quickly to take advantage of the funds to increase their services as soon as possible for students. See more by checking out the announcement at 14 minutes into FYNTV’s video below.
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer Chamber has officially announced an opportunity for county citizens to meet with the candidates from the two major elections in our county May 2.
As the only two races with competition, citizens will walk and talk with candidates from the local Post 2 Commissioner election as well as the District 7 candidates for the Georgia State House of Representatives.
Candidates for Post 2 Commissioner include Karleen Ferguson, Jerry Tuso, and Woody Janssen. There is no incumbent in this race.
Candidates for House of Representatives District 7 include David Ralston, Rick Day, and Margaret Williamson. Speaker of the House David Ralston is the incumbent in this race.
Scheduled for Wednesday, May 2, at 6:30 pm, the event will last two hours. Find more information with the Chamber’s flier for the event below.