Doss offers legal opinions at Board of Assessors meeting

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – County Attorney Lynn Doss presented the Fannin County Board of Assessors with two opinions at the assessors’ May 4 meeting.

First, Doss stated, according to state law, recreational vehicles, pull-behind trailers or similar vehicles, which have a license plate, do not qualify as a permanent residence and therefore cannot receive a homestead exemption.

Citing clauses from the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (O.C.G.A.) § 48-5-40, Doss’s opinion stated, “‘Homestead’ means the real property owned by and in possession of the applicant on January 1 of the taxable year … The term ‘homestead’ includes the following qualifications: the actual permanent place of residence of an individual who is the applicant and which constitutes the home of the family; (and) where the building is occupied primarily as a dwelling.”

“A mobile home is a building. A tent is a fabric covering, at least in my mind. An RV is a motor vehicle,” Doss presented in her opinion.

After Assessor Anthony Holloway asked Doss about the prospect of tiny homes qualifying for homesteads, the county attorney stated tiny homes would qualify if deemed a permanent residence.

Next, Doss addressed whether the Board of Assessors can legally decrease the value of a property once there has been a value assigned pursuant to an appeal.

According to Doss, O.C.G.A § 48-5-299 (c) would allow the board to decrease the valuation of a property “if market sales reveal that there has been a ‘substantial’ decrease in the current fair market value, then there is no prohibition against lowering the valuation.”

The board approved Doss’ opinions unanimously.

Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran presented a departmental budget review to address two overages in the maps and aerial line item and the capital outlay equipment line item.

The maps and aerial line item is budgeted for $24,000 for the 2018 fiscal year and currently stands at $30,524.41 as of April 16. Cochran explained this year’s aerial Picometry re-mapping project accounts for $22,524.11 of the line item while an $8,000 payment to Q Public accounts for the remaining balance. According to Cochran, the Board of Assessors department will receive reimbursement payments totaling $19,693.97 from other county departments, municipalities within the county, and businesses that signed an agreement last year to assist with the financing of the project in exchange for access to the updated maps. Taking the reimbursements into account, the department still has $12,169.86 in maps and aerials line item.

As for the capital outlay equipment line item, which was originally budgeted at $15,000 and currently stands at $40,000, Cochran stated the purchase of two fleet vehicles  for the assessors department at $20,000 each accounts for the overage. The Board of Commissioners approved the two expenditures at their Feb. 13 meeting.

Overall, the Board of Assessors budget for fiscal year 2018 is $848,265.00 and actual expenditures are $230,322.65 as of April 16.

Cochran also presented the assessors with a summary of the 2017 revaluation ratios. The overall fair market and land market median ratio is 0.3879. The state requires the median ratio to fall between 0.36 and 0.44. The coefficient of dispersion (COD) ratio this year is 0.1409. Cochran explained the COD measures uniformity within a classification or type of property, and the county ratio is in line with state requirements, which calls for this ratio to fall below 0.15. Also, the prime related differential (PRD) for the county is 1.0549, which Cochran said was also in line with state guidelines.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

 

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Bearden is new assessors chairperson, Junnier vice chairman

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Fannin County Board of Assessors (BOA) took on a slightly different look Friday, March 23, at their monthly meeting.

The BOA opened the meeting by welcoming local business owner Angelina Powell to the board. At the Feb. 27 Fannin County Board of Commissioners (BOC) meeting, Powell was nominated by BOC Chairman Stan Helton and appointed unanimously by the BOC to succeed former BOA Chairman Lane Bishop, whose seat on the BOA expired Feb. 28.

Next, the floor was opened for nominations for chairperson of the BOA, and board member Troy Junnier nominated Janie Bearden with a second coming from board member Anthony Holloway. Bearden was approved unanimously to serve as chairperson of the BOA. Board member Mark Henson was not present at the meeting.

Near the end of the meeting, Bearden put forth the idea of electing a vice chairperson to serve on the board and nominated Junnier for this position. Junnier was approved unanimously as vice chairman. To this, Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran explained Bearden had previously consulted with County Attorney Lynn Doss about the prospect of adding a vice chair position on the board and, according to Cochran, Doss confirmed there were no legal obstacles to hinder such a move.

Former Chairman Bishop delivered on his word given at the Feb. 27 BOA called meeting to attend future tax assessors meetings as a member of the public. After sitting through a three-hour meeting, Bishop made a brief statement to the BOA in the public commentary portion of the meeting and gave a typed letter to each member of the board as well as members of the media.

“I do appreciate this board,” Bishop stated. “I really do, but you all have got an awesome job, more than you may think. I think you are beginning to see this is pretty complex and convoluted sometimes. But you all use your good common sense, and you don’t let somebody else tell you how to vote, please.”

In his letter to the board members, Bishop put forth three main petitions to the BOA:

  • “Please finish the reassessment of the remaining 10,000 parcels that has not been done. The other taxpayers are not being treated fairly if this is not done;
  • “Please do not allow this department to go back to the ‘good old boys’ state we found it in years ago; (and)
  •  “The Board of Commissioners have no authority over this department even though they do control the budget as I was reminded of many times.”

Concerning the budget, Cochran presented the board with a brief budget review for this year. Cochran stated thus far the actual BOA budget is in line but did point out a $40,000 expenditure listed under the capital outlay equipment line item. This amount is $25,000 over the $15,000 budgeted amount for this line item. According to Cochran, the amount accounts for the February purchases of two 2016 Ford Escapes at $20,000 each. Cochran said she had discussed the line item amount with county Finance Director Robin Gazaway recently.

“(Gazaway) didn’t seem to think it would be a problem. She would explain to the auditors that these are two vehicles at $20,000 a piece,” Cochran explained.

The maps and aerial line item also shows an over-budget amount, standing at $30,524.41. Only $24,000 is budgeted for maps and aerial; however, the amount covers this year’s Pictometry LiDAR mapping project of the county, and the BOA is expected to receive compensation from other county departments as well as municipalities throughout the county that will be benefiting from the mapping.

One of those county departments that participated in the Pictometry mapping project contract was the E-911 department. Cochran explained a slight adjustment to that contract needed to be amended and approved by the BOA as E-911 cannot use the format produced by the project and Pictometry will have to produce a different type of format for the E-911 department to use. The amended contract was approved unanimously.

The board also approved a $1,400 invoice from forester Baker Allen, a registered forester who was recently contracted by the BOA to complete the 2018 timber valuation. According to Cochran, Allen worked a total of 70 hours at $20 an hour during the timber valuation.

“Counties are paying thousands to have this done,” Cochran added. “(This is) saving Fannin County a lot of money.”

A $3,000 invoice for uniforms was also approved by the BOA. Cochran explained the department annually budgets $3,000 for uniforms for its employees.

The board also approved a contract with Harris Govern to print and mail the 2018 notice of assessments (NOAs) to county property owners at the rate of 52 cents per NOA. Cochran estimated this year there will be around 31,600 NOAs, which will cost the BOA approximately $16,400 for the service from Harris Govern. The tax assessors department has attempted to complete the task of printing and mailing the NOAs itself in years past, but given the cost of paper, ink and man hours, Cochran said, “This (service) is very beneficial for our county.”

The BOA approved an update from the state for Kelley Blue Book values to be uploaded into the WinGap computer-assisted appraisal program for motor vehicle data. Cochran explained this data assists the board in making decisions for vehicle appeals that come before the board from owners.

 

 

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Board of Assessors discuss policy updates, revisions

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Updates of two policies and suggestions for the revision of a third were discussed at the Thursday, Nov. 9, Fannin County Board of Assessors (BOA) meeting.

The Construction in Progress on January 1 Market Risk Factor policy was updated. According to the policy, if new construction of or additions to a structure are determined to be still in progress as of January 1 each year, a uniform market risk factor of 75 percent will be given after the actual percentage of completion is determined by the appraiser. Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran stated the policy was mandated by the state.

“What market risk factor is: if a house is under construction, and (it is) only 60 percent (complete) by law we’re required to put a 0.75 (into the Cost Design Field), giving (the taxpayer) a 25 percent discount because of the risk on the market for not being complete if it were to sell,” Cochran explained.

The Extension of Time to File an Appeal policy was amended to read the Board “will not extend the appeal time frame set according to Official Code of Georgia 48-5-311.”

The opinion of County Attorney Lynn Doss, as presented by Cochran, stated, “The Georgia Court of Appeals has made it very clear that there can be no extension of the time for filling an appeal and any appeal filed subsequent to the statutory filing deadlines will be dismissed … There is not any provision in the law for the Tax Assessors to waive the time frame for filing an appeal.”

In essence, for county taxpayers, if an appeal is not filed with the Board of Assessors within the allotted deadline, the Board cannot make an exception to extend the given deadline.

In a continuation of discussion from the October BOA meeting, the tax assessors Locked Gate/Access Denied policy for field appraisers was reviewed for revision. Cochran explained she had studied similar policies from surrounding counties. The Board agreed, though no official action was taken, that steps should include leaving a door knocker note at the parcel followed by a phone call placed to the taxpayer of the parcel with blocked access informing the owner of the need to access the property to appraise. Next, if no communication can be reached, the tax assessors office would send a certified letter to the taxpayer. After a period, still to be determined, if contact cannot be reached, the parcel would then be appraised using information such as building permits and aerial photography.

After Cochran mentioned one nearby county’s procedure included allowing field appraisers to walk around lock gates if possible, Board member Troy Junnier stated he was strictly opposed to this idea. “There’s no sense in putting an assessor in harm’s way,” Junnier said.

Junnier also stressed the need of cooperation from parcel owners to communicate with the tax assessors office if a blocked access situation occurs to allow for an accurate appraisal for the taxpayer.

Field Appraiser Sharon Burke discussed a situation with an appraisal that involved a portion of a home that had been added to a structure that was originally built in 1902. Cochran added that the dilemma in the appraisal was whether to appraise the structure based on the original build date or the date of the modern renovations.

“Why we wanted to bring it to you,” Cochran told the Board, “is we are going to make this basically our policy, our uniform way of doing this if we run across this again. And we will.”

The Board agreed the home should be appraised according to the addition portion of the structure and that this procedure should also be followed in similar appraisal situations that may follow.

Cochran said the procedural change would be added to the Residential Cost Manual for field appraisers to create uniformity for the future.

In other business, four appeals were forwarded to the Board of Equalization by the Board of Assessors.

Also, four invoices totaling $7,097.08 were approved, which included costs for computer system upgrades ($3,024.12) as well as the purchase of backup tapes for department servers ($700), four new office filing cabinets ($2,699.96) and uniforms for two new tax assessors department employees ($673). Cochran stated the expenditures would be purchased with funds from capital outlay.

In addition, Jan. 10, 2018, was approved by the Board as a settlement conference date for potential taxpayer appeals that have cycled through the Board of Equalization and may need to be forwarded to Superior Court. Cochran told the Board there were as many as five potential cases that could be addressed at the January settlement conference.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Fannin Commissioners question Appalachian Pretrial Probation Program

News

The Fannin County Board of Commissioners held a special called meeting on February 7th 2017.  First on the agenda and taking up most of the time of the entire meeting was discussion regarding the Appalachian Pretrial Probation Program.

The Fannin Commission Chair Stan Helton and Fannin County post commissioners Earl Johnson and Larry Joe Sosebee had questions regarding the Appalachian Pretrial Probation Program,  hereinafter referred to as the APPP,

and were told by long time county attorney, Lynn Doss, “It is my understanding it is a private entity, it is not a unit of county or state government, and is therefore a private company.”

Further discussion continued and Commission Chair Helton said, “I signed this yesterday and then realized it was a contract and then thought it needs to be presented to you two gentlemen.”

Apparently the document had already received signatures from Fannin County Magistrate Judge Brian Jones and Fannin County Probate Judge Scott Kiker.  It appeared a lack of understanding by the Board of Commissioners and County Attorney Lynn Doss of what exactly the APPP is,  led to a decision for it to be tabled, which was eventually withdrawn.    Discussion continued and then questions were directed to Fannin County Probate Judge Scott Kiker who stepped to the podium to address the Commissioners and answer the questions.

Helton directed his comments to Judge Kiker saying, “This is the first time I’ve seen this, I hate to put anyone on the spot but we are discussing the agreement with the Appalachian Pretrial Program, its the APPP and this contract was just presented to me yesterday and yourself and Judge Jones had already approved this, is this an annual contract?”

Judge Kiker responded to the board saying, “Since I took office, as far as I can recall this has been the probation company we have used.  To be honest with you I have never questioned it, I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing.”  Kiker added, “Unless something is presented to me that shows an advantage to doing something else, I can say this, I’ve not had any issues with the APPP, they perform well.”  “I’m certainly open, If someone were to come to me, and say, I don’t know John Doe Probation Service were to come to me and put a contract in front of me and say we can do this cheaper, better or whatever I would be remiss as an Elected Official not to look at that.”

Fannin County Post Commissioner Earl Johnson, “I just have no idea what it is.”

When a question arose about the APPP being a corporation or a non-profit in reference to a statement made by County Attorney Doss, Ms. Doss responded with, “Ok I used corporation as a euphemism for private entity because I don’t think its a branch of county government but I can find that out.”

It was obviously clear the Board of Commissioners were not familiar with the APPP and the longtime Fannin County attorney Lynn Doss nor the Fannin County Probate Judge, Scott Kiker had a clear understanding of it.

FYN received the following information about the program from Appalachian Judicial Circuit Chief Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver,

“APPP is not a private probation company but is designated a county government program monitored by the Georgia Department of Community Supervision.  The program is a certified law enforcement program and the probation officers are certified police officers.
I have included a list of the misdemeanor probation programs in Georgia which clearly shows that APPP is designated a “government” probation program.”
Judge Weaver also forwarded a copy of the correspondence she mailed to each commissioner in August, 2016 which gave a brief history of the program.   See below:
It is disappointing more inquiry wasn’t completed prior to the meeting or county officials were not more knowledgeable which could have provided a better understanding for the commissioners and for citizens.  See full meeting video below:

 

 

Who authorized 2017 advance payment for Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss?

News

Fannin County Taxpayers gave (Lynn Doss) Doss & Associates a nice size advance on services in December in the amount of $5,708.34…some extra Christmas money?

On September 22, 2015 the Fannin County Commissioners amended the county charter by what is called  “Home Rule Law”. This changed the spending authority of the chairman to a $4,500 limit and also required the approval of another Commissioner (for a majority). County Attorney Lynn Doss authored the new Home Rule Law. Fannin county has what is considered a CEO government.  This means the Chairman is in charge of the day to day operations and County employees are to follow his/her daily work instruction.

(Read Home Rule Law below)

December 13, 2016 was the last BOC (Board of Commissioners) meeting of the year. During the meeting Chairman Bill Simonds, Post commissioners Larry Joe Sosebee and Earl Johnson approved all checks over $4,500. There was no check approved that night ( 12/13/16) for Doss & Associates.

On December 14th a check for $5,708.34 was cut for January 2017 legal services to Doss & Associates.

This check was an advance on services not yet rendered to the county. At the time of this advance, Bill Simonds was still Chairman and CEO of the County. FYN spoke with former chairman Simonds and asked if he approved the check? Simonds told FYN that  when Accounts Payable Clerk, Ms. Julie Locke came to him and said Lynn Doss has asked for her check, do you want me to cut it? Simonds asked Locke if Lynn had been paid in full for the year and she replied yes, this would be her January payment. Simond’s then told Locke NOT to cut the check and wait until January and let the new chairman decide how he was going to handle the county attorney’s payments. (Accounts Payable Clerk, Ms. Julie Locke was not interviewed for this story)

FYN did an open record request for a copy of the check (see below). The check has the computer signatures of both Bill Simonds and Rita Davis Kirby, former county CFO and Clerk. Above the computer signatures was post commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee’s initialed approval.

Considering Simonds said he did not approve the check,  FYN then spoke with Post Commissioner Earl Johnson to see if he was the “second approval” of the check.  Johnson told FYN he didn’t know anything about the check and was not aware the county made a practice of paying anyone in advance for anything.

FYN contacted Post Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee to ask why his intials of approval were on the check. Sosebee told FYN he received a call saying some checks needed approval and could he come by and approve. When he arrived,  Simonds was nowhere to be found.  Sosebee said the check was printed when he got to the office and he initialed the check.

Sosebee was at the Commissioner’s office earlier that same morning. The same day the check was cut,  Lynn Doss, Chairman elect Stan Helton and Larry Joe Sosebee met in the morning with then County CFO and Clerk, Rita Davis Kirby to inform her that after the first of the year,  her services would no longer be needed.

FYN spoke with Chairman Stan Helton. We asked Helton that on the morning (12/14/2016) of the meeting with Sosebee and Doss, if he was aware of a check being approved for Doss & Associates? Helton said he was not involved in any checks being approved or was he aware of any checks being cut before he took office.

FYN contacted former County CFO and Clerk Rita Davis Kirby and asked the following questions. Why is your name on the check cut for Lynn Doss on 12/14?

My name along with Mr. Simonds appears on every check as an electronic signature”

You were the County Clerk during the last commissioners meeting of the year 12/13/16.Was Ms. Doss’s check approved at that meeting? Were other checks approved at that meeting?

Ms. Doss’ check was NOT approved at the December 13th meeting and we did approve several checks at that meeting”

Chairman Simonds has gone on the record with FYN saying he instructed Ms. Julie Locke not to cut Ms. Doss’s check. Did you hear the conversation between Mr. Simonds and Ms. Locke? If so, what do you recall?

“My recollection of Ms. Doss’ check being cut is that Ms. Julie Locke came in my office on December 14th and I remember it very distinctly because it was the same day that Post Commissioner Sosebee and Chairman Elect Stan Helton told me services would no  longer be needed after the first of the year and Ms. Doss was present during that meeting. Ms. Locke told me that Ms. Doss had asked for her check but that she had already received her December payment and she stated. That just to make sure she went back to check to make sure she had received 12 payments and since she had this would be for January 2017. I told Julie (Ms. Locke) that she would have to get approval from Bill (Simonds) to cut the check and since it was over $4500.00, another commissioner would have to approve it as well.

I heard Mr. Simonds tell Julie that if it (the check) was for January then he wasn’t going to approve it. He said that he felt like Stan needed to be in on approving 2017 invoices over 4500”

Did Ms. Locke tell you who instructed her to print the check?

“Ms. Locke informed Ms. Doss that Mr. Simonds did not approve the check to be cut since it was actually a January payment and Mr. Simonds felt it should be approved in a January meeting. Ms. Locke then received a call from Commissioner Sosebee who at that time told Ms. Locke to cut the check for Ms. Doss and he would be in to approve it.”

Did LJS pick up the check or Lynn Doss?

“Commissioner Sosebee came into the office and initialed the Check and then Ms. Doss came in to pick the check up”

 

We sent County Attorney the following questions:

You received a check for January 2017 services on December 14, 2016

The commissioners approved checks during the 12/13/16 commissioners meeting. Your check was not in the group of checks approved that night.

Why not?

Did you request the check the morning of the 13th from then Chairman Bill Simonds?

If so, what was his answer to your request?

Post Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee approved the check.

Did you request the check from commissioner Sosebee?

Who notified you the check was ready to pick up?

Why did you accept the check with only one approval?

Did you write the Home Rule that was passed requiring 2 commissioners approval for checks over $4500.

We have received no response from Lynn Doss concerning our questions.

If former Chairman Bill Simonds did not approve the check and Chairman Stan Helton was not aware of the check, why did Doss take the check? We are not aware if Helton planned to appoint Doss & Associates as county attorney in 2017 but unbeknownst to him, Doss bound the Chairman to use her firm by taking the check for 2017 services without his knowledge.

Lynn Doss has been county attorney for about 20 years. We have asked several times for a service agreement between the Firm and the County along with who set the monthly payment of $5,708.34.

The only response we received from Lynn Doss,

“There is not a service agreement between Doss & Doss, Doss & Associates, Lynn Doss or Harry Doss and the Fannin County Board of Commissioners.  As noted to you on previous occasions, there is not a contract or service agreement with Fannin County.  While, the County Attorney serves at the pleasure of the Chairman, according to the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, the primary functions of the county attorney are to advise the governing authority [the Board of Commissioners] and other county officers on their powers and duties under the law as well as such other task as assigned.  The Chairman is free to appoint the attorney he pleases and to fix the duties, term of office and compensation.”

Doss does not submit itemized invoices to the county. Doss & Associates invoices only have the date and amount due with no description of the services rendered to the county.

I question if Doss serves at the pleasure of the Chairman, who represents the post commissioners? The fact that the county post commissioners don’t have representation became an issue in the July 2015 lawsuit when then Chairman Bill Simonds sued the post commissioners over local legislation. Last year FYN sent an open records request to the Fannin County Probate Judge Scott Kiker and received a response on the Judge’s behalf from County Attorney Lynn Doss. Did the Chairman instruct her to represent the Probate Judge?

We did not check every county in the state, however most counties make the first order of business for the new year to appoint their county clerk and attorney. Below is the video of Gilmer Commissioners appointing their county attorney for 2017 and the agenda for Pickens County to appoint their county attorney as well. Maybe it’s time for Fannin County Commission Chair Stan Helton to look into the compensation, contract for services and appointing a County attorney.

As far as the check (over $4500 to Doss and Associates) cut in fiscal year 2016 for 2017  services not yet rendered and without proper approval, just may deserve a look by the District Attorney.

Check all documents below.

Jan2017Check800

3pages80033

\Page 62 of the GA Constitution addresses Home RulePBOC

Subpoena that Landed Journalist Mark Thomason and Attorney Russell Stookey in Jail

News

In the case of the Fannin Focus publisher Mark Brannon Thomason and Attorney Russell Stookey,  there a several questions that remain unanswered about the subpoena for bank records. How did they get the bank account number on the subpoena? Who gave them checks with the account number? Thomason said some checks appeared to have been cashed. Who told him the checks appeared to have been cashed? FYN held interviews with Russell Stookey, Fannin County Financial Director Rita Davis Kirby. Subsequent to those interviews, Mark Thomason released a statement concerning the checks, but first some back story.

Thomason and Stookey were arrested Friday 6-24-16. Thomason was charged with three counts; identity fraud, attempt to commit identity fraud and making a false statement. Stookey was charged with two counts; identity fraud and attempt to commit identity fraud.

Appalachian Judicial District Chief Superior Court Brenda Weaver filed the complaint with the District Attorney’s office. DA,  B. Alison Sosebee presented the charges to a Pickens County Grand Jury made up of sixteen citizens. The Grand Jury returned true bills on both Thomason and Stookey.

The State and National media pounced on the sensationalism of “journalist went to jail violating his First Amendment Rights, freedom of the press”. They didn’t seem to be interested in researching any of the facts of the case. So why should they research when they have hooked the big fish, head of the JQC (Judicial Qualifying Commission), Brenda Weaver. Now that is a fish you don’t throw back into the water regardless the facts.

Judge Weaver sent DA Sosebee a letter requesting the charges against Thomason and Stookey be dropped. DA Sosebee has prepared a motion to have the case dropped.

Senior Judge Richard Winegarden has announced he will hold a hearing for the dismissal of the charges brought against Mark Thomason and Russell Stookey on July 18 at 3pm in Pickens County court.

If Judge Winegarden dismisses the case, that still begs the question, were the un-redacted checks given to Thomason or Stookey or both?

When an open records request is filed with the County for banking information, it is the responsibility of the County CFO to redact the account and routing numbers from the check before releasing the check. The Fannin County CFO is Rita Davis Kirby.

FYN interviewed Russell Stookey Tuesday on our morning show, “Good Morning from the Office”. Here is the transcript of some questions we asked Stookey about the subpoena and checks during our interview.

BKP

What were you looking for with the subpoena?

Copy of the redacted subpoena. Question how did they know what check number they were looking for?

Copy of the redacted subpoena. Question – how did they know what check number they were looking for?

Stookey

“We were looking for one check, that’s all we needed. We got in trouble because we were asking for that one check”.

The subpoena on Stearns Bank had account numbers on it and during the interview, Stooked agreed that when you do an open records request for checks, the account numbers are to be redacted..

BKP

Where did you get the bank account numbers to do the subpoena?

Stookey

“ They were from checks that had been used to pay other bills,”

I showed Stookey a copy of the subpoena on my computer.

BKP

“This is the subpoena that was been posted online.”

Stookey

“That’s the first time I have seen that”

BKP

“Where did you get the checks?”

Stookey

“I believe he (Thomason) got those checks from either the County Attorney or I think it might have been Mrs Kirby.”

BKP

“So you already had some so checks from 2015?”

Stookey

“I don’t know…I never saw the checks.”

BKP

“You never saw them?”

Stookey

“I never saw the checks.”

BKP

“Checks appeared to have been cashed?”

Stookey

“A banking officer had told Mark that a check appeared to be irregular because it had been cashed.”

I asked Stookey if he had seen the letters from the three county CFO’s (Pickens – Faye Harvey, Gilmer – Sandi Holden and Fannin – Rita Kirby) stating that after reviewing the checks that they appeared to be properly endorsed and deposited. Stookey responded that he had not seen them but he was aware of them.

Click to watch our video interview with Russell Stookey.

After our interview with Stookey, Mark Thomason the publisher of the Fannin Focus released the following statement:  “Any and all information contained on a subpoena served to Stearns Bank was acquired through open records request filed on Fannin County by Mark Thomason. Copies of checks and any banking information were provided to the Fannin Focus by Fannin County Financial Director, Rita Kirby. No banking numbers were redacted by Mrs. Kirby and were disclosed through a proper open records request that was filed”.

FYN interviewed Fannin County Chief Financial Director Rita Davis Kirby last Friday live on our show from Sycamore Crossing in downtown Blue Ridge.

BKP

“Did you give un-redacted checks to Mark Thomason?”

Kirby

“First and foremost, I did not give them (the checks) to Mark Thomason. The checks he received were received through means other than myself.  I gave those checks he’s talking about directly to our County Attorney Lynn Doss”.

BKP

“Did you give un-redacted checks to County Attorney Lynn Doss?”

Kirby

“Yes, the County has attorney client privilege.”

BKP

You did give checks?

Kirby

“I did”.

BKP

County Attorney asked for them?

Kirby

“She did”.

BKP

And you gave them to her?

Kirby

“Correct”.

BKP

Not Mark Thomason?

Kirby

“Not Mark Thomason”.

Click to watch our video interview with Rita Davis Kirby.

Please note: It is not necessary for Kirby to redact information when giving the information to the County Attorney.

When Kirby wrote her letter concerning her review of checks possibly being cashed, she stated that the checks appeared to be endorsed and deposited properly but Kirby went one step further by referencing her previous banking career.

After Kirby’s comments stating that she gave the checks to County Attorney Lynn Doss,  FYN reached out to Doss for a comment. Doss sent FYN the following response:

Sir: As you are aware there are pending investigations as to the matters

you referenced. As you are also aware, I am listed as a witness.  

Therefore, it is not appropriate for me to make any comment.  Thank you”.

Judge Richard Winegarden may dismiss the case against Thomason and Stookey Monday but one thing is for sure, he can’t dismiss the facts. FYN has done an open records request for the complete file on this case. We want to know the full story concerning the checks. This story will not end Monday…it will be just the beginning.

Related Stories.

Fannin Focus Publisher Mark Thomason Arrested, Journalist or Vendetta?

Ads in Fannin Focus do not show up correctly in Sheriff Candidates Campaign Financial Reports

Superior Court Judge Weaver Drops charges, Publisher Mark Thomason will not stand trial

Fannin Focus Publisher Mark Thomason Arrested along with Thomason’s Attorney Stookey – Transported to Pickens Jail

Fannin Focus Publisher Mark Thomason Indicted along with attorney Russell Stookey, 1 Count Making False Statement, 2 counts Identity Fraud

 

 

 

Fannin County Board of Education Hears Public Comments about Transgender Bathrooms in Fannin Schools

News

Vicki Rhodes of Morganton and Cathy Patterson of Mineral Bluff head to the Fannin Board of Education meeting.

 

Fannin County Board of Education held a three and one-half hour meeting on Thursday night, May 12th.  Two and a half hours were public comments about transgender bathrooms in Fannin County Schools.

Opponents of transgender bathrooms meet at First Baptist Church to prepare for Board of Education meeting

Opponents of transgender bathrooms meet at First Baptist Church to prepare for Board of Education meeting

It was standing-room only in the high school cafeteria.  Even more people were in the gymnasium.  Fannin Rebel TV, the high school television station, broadcast the meeting live to the people in the gym.  Around forty people gave comments about transgender bathrooms and people who do not fit traditional male/female gender identity. Except for attorney Ken Fletcher, everyone who spoke lives in Fannin county, has children in the school system or went through the school system themselves.  By the amount of people at the School Board meeting, Fannin County sent a loud and clear message to the School Board that they don’t want transgender bathrooms in Fannin schools. There were no counter-protesters outside the School Board meeting or along the walk from the First Baptist Church to the Fannin County High School cafeteria.

The meeting opened with an invocation from the Pastor of World Harvest Church North in McCaysville.  During his prayer, he thanked the Board for being here to serve God’s will first to students’ well-being, education and protection.  Bobby Bearden, Chair of the Fannin County School Board reminded the audience that the Board will take everything you say under serious consideration.  He also said that the Board is not here tonight to vote on anything about transgender bathrooms.

 

Comments from the Fannin County Community – Parents, Students and Graduates

The overwhelming theme of the forty plus people who gave comments was about privacy and safety of the children.  Many parents asked the Board why the schools couldn’t have a third bathroom option for transgender students.  At least two parents said that if the school allowed transgender children to use the bathroom of their choice, they will sue the school to build a private bathroom stall for their children. Parent after parent said that they would pull their children out of the Fannin County School system if the schools have transgender bathrooms.  Some parents scolded the Board for putting federal funding ahead of their children’s well-being. If the Fannin County School System chooses to not have transgender bathrooms, the school system could lose $3.5 million in federal funding.

Almost every speaker identified him or herself as a Christian.  Most talked about how the Bible teaches two genders, male and female.  Some parents, like Deena Daughtery, said that they had moved to Fannin County because of its morals.  Many speakers said that they couldn’t believe that the fight over transgender bathrooms had come to Fannin County.

The pastor of Sugar Creek Baptist Church expressed sympathy for the School Board because they were between a rock and hard place in having to make a choice about transgender bathrooms.

julia pruitt

Julia Pruitt

Four people spoke on behalf of Fannin community members who don’t fit traditional male/female gender identity.  Xavier Eaton, a graduate of Fannin County, is transgender.  He said about his time in school, “Everything I went through here was torment.  You don’t know what it is like to be hated.”  He asked the audience to teach children to co-exist with things they don’t believe in.  Julia Pruitt, a Fannin County resident and self-stated lesbian, said that she was listening to ignorance all around her at the meeting.  As a Christian, she believes that Jesus left her with one commandment, “Love thy neighbor.” She told the audience that this (a transgender student) is somebody’s baby that we are talking about.  A therapist practicing in Fannin County told the audience that she was there to let students know that there are other children in Fannin and surrounding counties who are transgender and there are support networks students can reach out to.  She encouraged Fannin students to resist fear-based messages.

Some high school and middle school students spoke.  They indicated that students were not ready to accept transgender bathrooms at school.  Two 8th grade girls had the shortest and most simple comment about transgender bathroom.  It summed up what many parents said without a long explanations. The girls said, “I don’t want to go to the bathroom and see a boy there.”

 

Anthony Walton’s Comments

Anthony Walden

Anthony Walden

Anthony Walton, organizer of Fannin community members who disapprove of transgender bathrooms, spoke for about 15 minutes.  He had several main points.

First, was that people cannot serve God and money.  The Fannin school system needs to make a choice to follow Christian ideas and not be concerned about losing $3.5 million. People are letting the federal government control us with money.  He said that from teaching evolution to acceptance of transgender bathrooms, the US education agenda is immoral and it is time to say “enough!”.

Second, he see transgendered bathrooms as a slippery slope to allowing perversion in school.  He said that if we accept that transgender people are hard-wired to be different, then how do we know that schools won’t see pedophiles as people who are just hard-wired to be different.  Eventually the schools could end up hiring pedophiles to teach our children and there could be perverts in the bathrooms with our daughters and wives.  He gave several examples of how students participating in activities normally reserved for the opposite gender could upset school life.  He said these kind of situations make confusion for students.  What if male athletes play on female teams; what would this do to the playoffs?

He finished up his remarks by promising the School Board that your neighbors and friends in this room will stand with you until the bitter end.

 

Alliance Defending Freedom’s comments

Attorney Ken Fletcher

Attorney Ken Fletcher

Attorney Ken Fletcher, an attorney from Alliance Defending Freedom (see website) was there.  His organization is offering to assist the Fannin County School Board with developing a bathroom policy.  His idea is to have a private school clinic or faculty  bathroom that is open for transgender students.  He told the audience that people who have gender dysphoria live a life of heartache and that there is a 20% suicide rate among transgender people. Mr. Fletcher believes that forcing transgender bathrooms on people is an example of government overreach and transgender bathrooms are another example of President Obama’s executive actions that are forcing unacceptable moral changes in public schools.

 

County Attorney Lynn Doss’ Comments

Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss

Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss

Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss spoke for the Board of Education.  She first cleared up some rumors that have been going around.  She said that Fannin County schools do not have unisex bathrooms and that the School Board is not voting on transgender bathrooms.  Also, non one in the Fannin County school system has had their job threatened over this issue. About the $3.5 million the school system could lose if it provides transgender bathrooms, she said that Fannin County can do without the $3.5 million.  The real money problem is that the school system could be fined $1,000 a day for not providing bathroom. The school system could not take that financial loss.  Like Mr. Fletcher, she said that requiring transgender bathrooms in public schools is another example of government overreach.

Ms. Doss went on to tell the audience that if they really don’t want transgender bathrooms in the schools, they should take their fight to people who have the possibility to change this rule.   The Fannin County School System could refuse to provide transgender bathrooms, but the school system’s action has no power to change the law.  Ms. Doss encouraged everyone to write Gov. Deal and their state and national Senators and Representatives.  She thanked Georgia House Speaker David Ralston for taking a proactive stand for Fannin County.

 

Superintendent Mark Henson’s Comments

Fannin County School Superintendent Mark Henson

Fannin County School Superintendent Mark Henson

At 8:30, two and one-half hours after public comments began, the Board was ready to move into new business.  First, everyone took a 15 minute break.  Then the School Board sat back down to do what it usually does at monthly School Board meetings: listen to and approve purchase requests, go over budget and hear about school programs. (read about the other topics on the School Board May meeting here)

At the end of the School Board meeting, around 9:10, Superintendent Henson gave his remarks about the meeting.  He always sums up School Board meetings and talks about plans for the schools in his end-of-meetings comments.

Mr. Henson promised that everyone employed in the school system, from general staff to teachers to district administrators to the School Board, does everything in their power to keep students safe.  He promises that the School Board will do its best to find a workable solution over the summer.

He talked about the everyday problems that the controversy over transgender bathrooms is bringing to Fannin schools. He said, “If we let this tear us down, then it will.”  He talked about how the school system has so much going for it.  For example, this year’s test scores are in the 11% highest group in Georgia.  Fannin county schools have so much to look forward to said Mr. Henson.  Then, he  announced that the school system is purchasing the Farmer’s Market space next to Swan Drive-In for $350,000 and will build a state-of-the-art agriculture center, something Fannin’s agriculture programs have desperately needed for a long time.

Mr. Henson talked about the disruption this controversy is causing at one of the most critical times in the school year.  “We are only six days from the end of the school year… Everyone needs to calm down and back up.”

I will resign before I let this school system fall apart. – Mark Henson

Then, Mr. Henson said what he personally will do about the situation; “I will resign before I let this school system fall apart.”  This is an especially strong statement from Mr. Henson because he is a graduate of Fannin County schools, his father was high school principal here, his wife works at the school and his children attend Fannin County schools.

Mr. Henson’s comments also covered rumors floating around that Fannin County employees’ jobs are being threatened and the School Board has held secret meetings  to make decisions about transgender bathrooms.

He said absolutely no one’s job has been threatened.  In fact, several school system employees spoke at the meeting about why they don’t want transgender bathrooms.  Mr. Henson then asked the pastor of Sugar Creek Baptist Church if he felt his job with the school system was threatened because he spoke against the School Board and transgender bathrooms.  The pastor said, “Absolutely not.”  In fact, Anthony Walden, the organizer of the protest against transgender bathrooms, works closely with the school system.  He is a School Resource Officer at Fannin County Middle School.

Mr. Henson said that there had been no secret meetings of the School Board about transgender bathrooms.  Mr. Henson, the Fannin County School Board and school system employees pride themselves in how they run a very transparent school system.  Everyone they can read all documents, meeting minutes, school information and school system budget on Fannin’s School Board website. (click here to view the website) . The School Board did go into Executive Session at their workshop meeting on Tuesday.  But, it was to discuss land acquisition (the purchase of the Farmer’s Market) and personnel issues.  April and May is the time when school systems do most of their hiring.

Mr. Henson closed out his comments with thanking all the District Office employees who came out to support the School Board and the school system.

 

School Board Members’ Comments

Finally, it was time for the last item on the agenda, School Board members’ comments about the meeting.

Steve Stanley promised Mr. Henson that “the cavalry  (the School Board) it going to stay right where it is at.”  Mr. Stanley is proud of the new agriculture facility coming to the school system.  He has worked closely with Future Farmers of America and seen how desperately the students need it.

Lewis DeWeese said he wished people knew about the caliber of people we have here.  “We are proud of our team.  All are top-notch God-fearing people who care about children.”

Terry Bramlett said that the people at the meeting tonight should share the same level of passion with representatives in Washington.  He encouraged everyone to write to state and national officials whose duty it is to make legislation about transgender bathrooms.  He shares Mr. Henson’s and Mr. Stanley’s enthusiasm about the new Agriculture Center and reminded the audience that agriculture remains the largest industry in Georgia.

Sandra Mercier said that when she thinks about this controversy, she looks to her personal inspirational statement which she has engraved on her bracelet:  “God grant me the serenity to change what I can, accept what I can’t and the wisdom to know the difference.”

School Board Chair Bobby Bearden said that he was the Board member that told people he was “in it to the end.”  Mr. Bearden was referring to two commenters’ statements that they would call out the Board member who promised to take it to the end if the School Board member doesn’t do what Fannin residents feel about transgender bathrooms.

The School Board meeting ended at 9:30.

 

See related posts:

 “Transgender Bathrooms in Fannin County Schools”

“Fannin Board of Education Workshop:  Middle School Principal, Lunch Prices, Buses, Rain Barrels and Bathrooms”

“Fannin County Board of Education Changes Meeting Location to Accommodate Expected Protesters”

“Fannin Board of Education: Superintendent Henson Will Follow US Law Regarding Transgender Bathrooms”

 

See Related Videos:

Public Comments at Fannin BOE Meeting

Fannin Board of Education:  Superintended Henson Will Follow US Law Regarding Transgender Bathrooms.

March to Fannin County Board of Education

Ken Fletcher of Alliance Defending Freedom Speaks at Fannin County Board of Education

 

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County Attorney Lynn Doss Explains EEOC Lawsuit

News

Fannin County Board of Commissioners held a special-called meeting on Monday, May 2nd to so that Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss could explain how the county lost a civil discrimination lawsuit when previous trials about the same case had resulted in favorable rulings for the county.

The civil lawsuit settlement at the center of the meeting is the end of a string of cases dating back to 2011 when Fannin County was sued by employees  (read article here) who said that they were fired because they were over 60.  The employees filed a discrimination case with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

According to Ms. Doss, the case went through several rounds of rulings.  First, the EEOC stated that the plaintiffs had no grounds.  Then the EEOC itself brought a discrimination suit against the county. Ms. Doss did not explain why the EEOC decided against the plaintiffs’ case going forward and instead decided to bring the lawsuit itself. After the initial judgement that the EEOC has sufficient reason to sue Fannin, the county asked for a rejudgement which was ruled in Fannin’s favor.  Additionally, the court said that the EEOC must pay for legal costs.

Much to Ms. Doss’ dismay, the civil lawsuit, brought about by four plaintiffs in the EEOC case, succeeded.  Ms. Doss explained that the County prepared over 33,000 documents to support their rejudgement case and several levels of courts had ruled in the county’s favor which, she had felt, made a very strong case against the civil lawsuit plaintiffs.

Instead of going to court, the civil lawsuit was dealt with in mediation conducted by the risk management company hired by the county.  As Ms. Doss explained a couple of times, it was not the county that actually settled the lawsuit in favor of the four former employees, it was the risk management company.  In fact, as part of the mediation, the plaintiffs all signed that it was the risk management company’s decision, not the county’s decision to settle the lawsuit through mediation. She said the county had been well-prepared and anticipated going to trial, not mediation, for the civil lawsuit.

Attendees at the meeting learned through Post-Commissioner Earl Johnson that Commission Chairman Bill Simonds signed checks totaling a lump sum of $208,000 to the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG). It  collected the original checks and provided reimbursements.  ACCG is a para-governmental organization which county commissions throughout Georgia belong to.  An ACCG division handles liability insurance for county commissions belong to the organization (see related story “Chairman Bill Simonds Admits to Signing  Checks Totaling $208,000 Check without  Approval”). Fannin County Board of Commissioners checks’ were sent to ACCG on April 15.  Fannin County received reimbursement ACCG on April 18.

Ms. Doss did not say what the complete sum of the mediation settlement would be although she said that the attorneys for the plaintiffs would make much more money than the plaintiffs themselves.  When asked by an attendee if the settlement would increase the monthly insurance payments for the county like a car accident would increase car insurance, Ms. Doss circumvented the answer by saying that the county gets reimbursements each year from the insurance company.  She did not say if the county will receive a reimbursement this year.

Ms. Doss herself did not attend the one-day mediation proceedings between the plaintiffs and the county’s insurance company.  She said that the lawyer handling the county’s case had assured her than she needn’t be there.  The only reason why she would need to be there is if any of the plaintiffs were to ask for their job back and there had been no indication that one would.  FetchYourNews’ Brian Pritchard asked Ms. Doss when the mediation took place.  She couldn’t give the exact dates, only sometime in late March.  The Board of Commissioners, however, waited until May 2 to give Fannin residents a status update.  Ms. Doss did not give an explanation as to why she didn’t attend the one-day mediation.

The meeting agenda was topsy-turvy.  At the beginning of the meeting the Mr. Simonds items 1 and 2 on the agenda and went to discussion requested by Mr. Sosebee, who was the Commissioner who initiated the meeting.  Mr. Sosebee called for Executive Session and the Commissioner left to talk behind closed doors, just 45 seconds after the meeting began.  They were gone for almost two hours.

Executive Session, according to every agenda, occurs after Commissioners’ Comments and Public Comments. Also, Executive Session is to only cover personnel and current legal matters, not ones that have been settled.  James Wolf of The News Observer asked if other topics were discussed in the Executive Session.  Mr. Simonds remained silent.

Upon return to the bench, Ms. Doss began her ten minute explanation of the lawsuit settlement.  Then the meeting turned to $208,000 worth of checks that Mr. Simonds had signed without the approval of the Post- Commissioners (see related post).  Finally, after waiting two hours, the die-hard library supporters presented, once again, their case for a stand-alone library in Fannin County.

This article has been updated to reflect new information.

 

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