Criminal threats precede discussion of proposed Code of Civility

City Council, News
Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Criminal Threat, Censure, Conduct, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, David Syfan, Code of Civility, David Ralston, Speaker, House of Representatives

Blue Ridge, Ga. – As the Blue Ridge City Council discussed revising the Rules and Procedures of its meetings, conflict erupted over the newly proposed Code of Civility presented by Council Member Mike Panter.

During a very heated discussion, it was also revealed by Council Member Nathan Fitts that Panter had allegedly made criminal threats against him.

Panter read from a letter sent to council regarding the review of the City’s Charter and the recommendations that were being made based on a committee that had been formed for the review.

Along with the committee Panter said input had been taken from several sources including Donna Thompson, who runs a local governmental accountability group, current and previous council members, a local attorney, business owners and residents.

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Criminal Threat, Censure, Conduct, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, David Syfan, Code of Civility, David Ralston, Speaker, House of Representatives

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Criminal Threat, Censure, Conduct, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, David Syfan, Code of Civility, David Ralston, Speaker, House of Representatives

City of Blue Ridge proposed Code of Civility Policy

Panter did point out that prior to reading his letter to the council, the letter itself had already been leaked to the public.

Later Council Member Rhonda Haight would question this remark asking Panter, “Do you have a problem with the public knowing what we are doing?”

Panter pointed out that as far as the Rules and Procedures of council meetings, previous City Attorney David Syfan had drafted an ordinance that would still be in compliance with the City Charter. 

In an effort to save tax dollars Panter suggested that the city vote on the adoption of this particular ordinance instead of paying more attorney fees to have new ordinances written: “I think we should readopt this ordinance which was done away with by previous council.” 

“It (vote to adopt ordinance) was moved a few months later because evidently the council didn’t like what he came up with and they just threw it away,” Panter explained of the ordinance drafted by Syfan and why it was not already put in place.

“I’m totally great with that ordinance that David wrote,” Haight said, adding, “I thought it was wonderful. He did a great job.”

Haight did have concerns over the Code of Civility section Panter was presenting and expressed these concerns.

According to the Code of Civility section, a council member would be asked to resign or a vote could take place for the elected official’s removal after receiving two censures.

This section of the Code of Civility came directly on the heels of a censure of Council Member Nathan Fitts. Earlier in the same meeting, Panter had brought forth a censure against Fitts for “continuous inappropriate conduct”.

Haight felt this particular item in the Code of Civility would be in violation of the City’s Charter since evidentiary hearings would need to take place for a censure vote and no evidentiary hearing was given to Fitts previously that night.

Panter replied to Haight,  “Our charter says that we have the right to remove an elected official.”

“For wrongdoing,” Fitts retorted to Panter’s comment.  “The only person that has violated state and local law is you and Ms. Whitener.”

Incivility ensued as Mayor Donna Whitener questioned Fitts over his accusations against her. After a brief period of numerous calls to and points of order, discussion continued over the proposed code.

Haight pointed out that the Code of Civility was also attempting to limit the council’s transparency. 

The Code states of council that:

“There should be no public statements, letters to the editor or on social media or with an organization, advertisements, emails, texts or announcements regarding official city business without Council approval.”

“As a public official I have every right to tell the public what we are doing. I have every right to post on social media what we are doing,” Haight spoke to Panter, “I will never vote on this as it is.” 

Council Member Fitts agreed with Haight that the Code of Civility needs attempts to limit the transparency of local government and needs further review.

Fitts also pointed out the hypocrisy of Panter in not only introducing the Code of Civility but also for the censure that Panter brought forth earlier in the evening. 

“You made a criminal threat to me and Ms. Haight this week and said that you were going to drag me out of the council meeting by the hair and beat me up,” Fitts made public the alleged threat by fellow Council Member Panter. “You need to practice what you preach.”

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Criminal Threat, Censure, Conduct, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, David Syfan, Code of Civility, David Ralston, Speaker, House of Representatives

Former Blue Ridge City Attorney R David Syfan

Fitts and Haight have both personally sought legal advice from former Blue Ridge City Attorney David Syfan regarding any proposed new ordinances. Both Fitts and Haight are personally paying Syfan for his help.

“This will not be charged to the city,” Haight made clear her and Fitts personal financial responsibility to Syfan.

Current City Attorney James Balli, according to Haight is not trained in municipal law, where Syfan is.

Panter, who is the newest elected official to the council, questioned why Syfan was let go in the first place.

Leading both Haight and Fitts to agree that Balli was hired solely on the recommendation of Mayor Whitener.

Fitts went into further detail with Haight backing up his recollection of events. 

Fitts stated of the reason for Balli’s hire, “She (Whitener) said that because Speaker Ralston was from Blue Ridge and that Mr. Balli was his pick. She said that Blue Ridge would get stuff that we would not get otherwise and that’s why she asked us to choose Mr. Balli.”

Whitener replied that Fitts and Haight’s claims were “more misinformation” and that council had a chance to vote no.

The Rules and Procedures Ordinance along with the Code of Civility will be discussed and reworked before vote will be taken on its adoption.

Speaker David Ralston honors Fannin County High School Football Team

Community, Rebel's Corner

ATLANTA – On Wednesday, Feb. 3, the Georgia House of Representatives adopted House Resolution 86, sponsored by Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge), honoring the Fannin County High School Football Team. The team won the 7AA Region Championship in November 2020.

“I want to congratulate Coach Cheatham and every team member on their undefeated regular season record and their regional title,” said Speaker Ralston. “I am very proud of the hard work and dedication they put in to earning this championship. Our community has much to be proud of – but our young people are surely our greatest point of pride.”

House Resolution 86 reads, in part, “The team brought special recognition to its school and to Fannin County by winning the 7AA Region Championship for the first time since 2007, which stands as a testament to the unbridled passion and resilience exemplified by each team member.”

Read the entire resolution here.

Ralston to form House election integrity committee

News
election integrity

ATLANTA, Ga – During the pre-legislative conference, Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston confirmed they would form a special committee concerning election integrity.

The committee will devote its “full attention” to restoring confidence in the election process. Several Georgians continue to believe voter fraud occurred in the presidential election, but three recounts confirmed the results.

Ralston added new voting legislation could be introduced this session.

“I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t pass significant measures this session, assuming the governor approved them and signed them into law,” Ralston commented.

Ralston tasked the election integrity committee with two items:

  • keep elections open and accessible to all registered voters.
  • ensure proper oversight and security of the election’s process.

The members of the committee will be announced next week.

However, Ralston urged caution before making too many changes to existing election laws. One change he supported was ending jungle primaries. He asked potential members of the committee to include that provision in any legislation brought forward.

When questioned, Ralston didn’t commit to removing no-excuse absentee voting in Georgia or removing the 50 plus rule for Georgia elections.

“I’m certainly going to listen to both sides of that and frankly I don’t know where I’m going to come down, but someone is going to have to make a very strong case,” Ralston stated.

Ralston thanked Senators Kelly Loeffler (R) and David Perdue (R) for their service and congratulated Senators-elect Jon Ossoff (D) and Raphael Warnock (D).

He added that Republicans in Georgia and across the country will need to create a path forward.

“Our Republican party, and frankly our government, is at its best when we’re working for our people. We address fundamental issues that make people’s lives better. We have to turn our attention from those seeking to divide us and focus our attention on the work that brings us together,” Ralston remarked.

Other items for the 2021 session include COVID-19 relief, mental health, education, and more.

“Un-American”: Kemp, Ralston, Duncan condemn violence at the Capitol

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Kemp Capitol

ATLANTA, Ga – Georgia Republican Leaders Governor Brian Kemp, Speaker of the House David Ralston, and Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan spoke out against the violence in the United States Capitol.

Kemp called the actions of the extremists “un-American” and a “disgrace.” He commented on the peaceful protests that took place in Georgia over the summer, but “we did not allow anarchy and we certainly will not allow that now.”

He condemned those breaking into government buildings and berating police officers. The governor also alluded that a special session in Georgia would have ended in similar violence and denounced Rudy Guiliani for his “trial by combat” comments.

Duncan asked Trump to clearly instruct his supporters to leave DC.

Kemp extended the National Guard executive order as well.

Duncan “strongly and vehemently condemned the rioting and violence at the U.S. Capitol and other places across this country.” He asked President Donald Trump to deliver clear instructions to those in Washington DC and tell them to peacefully leave the Capitol. As for Georgians, Duncan implored them to “put down their differences, their partisanship, and pick up their freedom.”

Speaker Ralston called it a “sad day.”

“The shocking images we have seen from our nation’s Capitol today are indefensible, un-American, and frankly heartbreaking. I stand here with our governor, out lt. governor, and the support of the members of the General Assembly to condemn in the strongest possible terms these acts of lawlessness,” Ralston stated.

He remarked that the loss of an election isn’t a reason to “jeopardize” the safety of other citizens and reminded everyone that “we are one nation under God.”

Kemp added that they are looking into increased safety protocols ahead of the legislative session which begins on Monday.

Ralston spoke for the entire General Assembly to disavow today’s actions.

“We will move forward together working on the things that really matter to the people of our state,” Kemp ended.

Earlier today, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and staff were evacuated from their offices because of threats.

One woman was shot to the chest at the Capitol and the streets in DC continue to be filled with people. At this time, capitol police and other officers are working to clear out the Capitol. Some senators and representatives are hopeful they will return to Congress tonight.

Collins comes to Blue Ridge to set the record straight

Election 2020, News, Politics

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Congressman Doug Collins stopped in Blue Ridge on his campaign tour in the race for U.S. Senate. With him were special guests Georgia State Speaker of the House David Ralston and former member of the foreign policy advisory panel to Donald Trump, George Papadopoulos. 

Collins spoke briefly on his record as U.S. Congressman, highlighting his conservative values and his reputation for representing the people of the 9th District. 

Collins has stood up to multiple government agencies and individuals during his career, most notably holding the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) and James Comey accountable.

Collins was also a visible ally to President Donald Trump during the U.S. House of Representatives Impeachment Hearings. 

Now, Collins wants to take this same momentum and move it to the U.S. Senate.

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Congressman, Doug Collins, Speaker of the House, David Ralston, foreign policy advisory panel, Donald Trump, George Papadopoulos, Senator, Kelly Loeffler, New York Stock Exchange, Intercontinental Exchange, Jeffrey Sprecher, election, 2020

Georgia State Speaker of the House David Ralston and Congressman Doug Collins in Blue Ridge.

With the U.S. Senate seat open to a Jungle Primary on the Nov. 3 ballot, Collins wants to set the record straight on what is and isn’t true about himself and his biggest Republican rival, Senator Kelly Loeffler.

According to Collins, Loeffler’s attacks on him are unfounded and in many cases an attempt at deflection about her true nature and intent.

Collins specifically sited Loeffler’s pro-life stance that seems to not have been her view a mere two years ago when she worked with Planned Parenthood to have a booth set up at a basketball game where monies raised would be split with the organization.

“I am the one who is actually concerned about life,” Collins said pointing to decisions his family has made in their personal life that reflect these values.

Loeffler also made claims that Collins was not Pro-Second Amendment and that as a lawyer Collins represented criminals.

Collins assured the crowd, having grown up the son of a trooper neither of these claims could be further from the truth. 

“She doesn’t want you to know that she worked with Michael Bloomberg,” Collins said of Loeffler’s Second Amendment claims and her own personal work on a gun control agenda.

In his career as a lawyer, Collins took indigent clients, none of which were pictured in Loeffler’s ad. Collins stated, “Doug Collins defender of criminals? No, Doug Collins did his constitutional duty taking indigent clients.”

Loeffeler has also released ads containing a picture of Collins with former Georgia House Representative Stacey Abrams.

Abrams made waves as the Democratic nominee for Georgia Governor in 2018, known for her liberal stances.

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Congressman, Doug Collins, Speaker of the House, David Ralston, foreign policy advisory panel, Donald Trump, George Papadopoulos, Senator, Kelly Loeffler, New York Stock Exchange, Intercontinental Exchange, Jeffrey Sprecher, election, 2020

George Papadopoulos gives his endorsement of Collins for Senate.

Collins explained the photo, “This was after we saved the HOPE scholarship. Stacey joined us on a conservative idea and voted for it because she understood that people needed that money.”

According to Collins, Loeffler actually employed Abrams as an attorney for a basketball team and in 2018 Loeffler honored Abrams as a woman of distinction while “Abrams for Governor” signs were in the background of the photo-op.

Lastly, Collins pointed out that Loeffler makes her decisions based on her own self-interest and money. 

“She claims to be tough on China,” Collins said and added, “Take the ten state owned companies that are listed on the New York Stock Exchange, owned by the Chinese Communist Party, and delist them.” 

Jeffrey Sprecher, Leoffler’s husband, is the founder, chairman, and CEO of Intercontinental Exchange, and the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange.

Collins said of his suggestion to delist the Chinese companies, that it will never happen because Loeffler will choose her pocketbook and their pocketbook over policy everyday.

“I may not have $35 million, but I’ve got all I need because I’ve got you and I’ve got the voters of Georgia and they understand who the real conservative is in this race,” Collins said referencing the amount the Loeffler has spent on her Senate campaign, “Georgia can’t be bought.”

Annexation halted for City of Blue Ridge

City Council, Community, Downtown Blue Ridge, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Annexation of portions of Hwy. 5 and Hwy. 515 have been halted for the remainder of the 2020 year.

City of Blue Ridge officials met opposition to the annexation plan when council members Nathan Fitts and Rhonda Haight questioned the information they had been given by Blue Ridge City Mayor Donna Whitener prior to a vote that sent the appeal for annexation to the State Capitol.

Haight, Fitts and new council member Mike Panter all voiced that more public input was needed before the annexation should take place. A Town Hall meeting was scheduled shortly after to allow citizens to speak either for or against the topic at hand.

The majority of speakers at the meeting were in opposition, most agreeing that growth is inevitable but the way this particular deal was made regarding the annexation was not forthcoming or transparent and should therefore be tabled until more information is available to the public.

“Back up and do it right,” citizen Paul Miguire declared at the town hall.

Residents were still left baffled when the Blue Ridge City Council released their upcoming June 9 (Election Night) meeting agenda. Annexation was not on the agenda to be discussed, even with the looming deadline to either move forward or rescind before State Legislators reconvened their session.

Annexation is not on the agenda for the upcoming meeting because Blue Ridge City Officials have already sent a letter to the Capitol asking that no action be taken on the annexation request for the remainder of 2020, unless voted on by council to renew its original request.

The letter, dated June 4, 2020, reads:

Dear Speaker Ralston:

As you may recall, I previously forwarded a resolution passed by the City Council requesting the annexation of certain roads into the City. It is my understanding a House Bill was drafted to comply with that request. However, on May 19, 2020, the City Council voted to respectfully request that you table the previously requested annexation and take no action for the remainder of the 2020 legislative session unless the City renews its previous request. Additionally, the City Council also wishes to rescind its requests relating to the Charter amendments for staggered terms and the ability fill a vacant seat by appointment. I appreciate all you do for the State and am happy to answer any questions. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Taylor English Duma, LLP

blue ridge. city, annexation

April 27 to be a day of prayer for Georgia as fight against COVID-19 continues

Press Release
severe day of prayer

Atlanta, GA – On Monday, April 27, Governor Brian P. Kemp will join Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, Speaker David Ralston, and faith leaders from across Georgia in holding a Day of Prayer service in the rotunda of the Georgia State Capitol at 10:00 a.m. As the state continues to battle COVID-19, Kemp, Duncan, and Ralston are calling on all Georgians and members of the faith community around the state to participate by posting videos of their prayers on social media throughout the day.

“Our unprecedented battle with COVID-19 has proven the resolve of the people of Georgia to fight hard, come together, and do what is necessary to stop the spread of the virus,” said Governor Kemp. “While we cannot all be together right now, we can join with one another in prayer for our frontline healthcare workers, first responders, law enforcement, business owners, local leaders, and fellow Georgians as we continue the important work of fighting COVID-19 and safely reopening our state. On Monday, I am calling on all Georgians to participate in our Day of Prayer by posting on social media and showing their support for their fellow citizens.”

“COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on countless lives across our state and nation. In the midst of tremendous loss, uncertainty, and anxiety, I look forward to joining together in prayer,” said Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan. “Faith and prayer are a comfort to millions of Georgians, and whatever your background, I hope Monday will be a chance for us to focus on those who are hurting and seek wisdom for the hard road ahead.”

“I’m very proud of the response to this crisis by our state government and local and federal partners as well as healthcare workers and frontline personnel,” said Speaker David Ralston. “In such trying times, it is appropriate that we come together to pray for those battling this disease and its impact as well as those who have tragically lost loved ones. I join with Governor Kemp, Lt. Governor Duncan, and all Georgians in praying for the mercy and comfort of our Lord as we look forward to brighter days ahead.”

To ensure adherence to social distancing guidelines, the Day of Prayer service will not be open to the general public. Georgians are encouraged to participate via livestream at www.facebook.com/GovKemp at 10:00 a.m.

Live Call-In With House Speaker David Ralston

Community

#BKP has House Speaker David Ralston on the show to discuss the elections in Georgia, the worldwide pandemic, and much more.

 

UPDATE: Ralston sends another letter to Raffensperger regarding Georgia Primary

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UPDATE: April 8, 2020

ATLANTA, Ga – After announcing his support of extending the Public Health State of Emergency through May 13, House Speaker David Ralston has again asked Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) to move the Georgia Primary to June 16.

Ralston has been very vocal about moving the election until Georgia can overcome the COVID-19 outbreak, which has a death rate in Georgia of 3.65 percent.

“We have seen many reports recently about how impactful a May 19 primary will be on the
ability of poll workers to report. Paramount is the health of voters, poll workers and others who
must be at polling precincts on Election Day,” stated Ralston in the letter.

Letter to Secretary of State 4.8.20

Copy of the April 8 letter.

Original Story from March 26, 2020 below: 

ATLANTA, Ga – Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston (Ga -7) sent a letter to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) asking him to please move Georgia’s May 19th primary due to novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

In the letter, Ralston asserts that he would like the primary to be moved to a date of June 23 or later. He cites several other southern states that have already moved their May Primaries to June or July as a precautionary measure to keep the public safe.

An exert from the letter below:

“At the present time, our state, the entire nation and the world are confronted by a public health emergency of unprecedented magnitude.

Our prayer is that we will be on the other side of this difficult period sooner rather than later. However, the inescapable truth is that we do not know the duration of the immediate health peril. Reputable scientists and physicians cannot agree on its duration.

All of which means that the precautionary measures recommended by the CDC and adopted in executive order by Governor Kemp will continue for an unknown period of time.”

The Georgia Speaker of the House also addresses the right to vote as one of America’s “cherished freedoms” and it “should be free of impact from circumstances which create obstacles to its exercise.”

The May 19th primary puts Georgia over a month ahead of anyone else in the south.

View the full letter here. Secretary Raffensperger 3 26 2020

On Tuesday, March 24, Raffensperger announced that the Secretary of State’s Office would be mailing out absentee ballots to 6.9 Georgia voters for the May 19th primary. This was his answer to ensuring the health of Georgia voters and poll workers during the pandemic.

In a press release issued by Raffensperger on the absentee ballots, he said,

“Times of turbulence and upheaval like the one we Georgians face require decisive action if the liberties we hold so dear are to be preserved,” said Raffensperger. “I am acting today because the people of Georgia, from the earliest settlers to heroes like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Congressman John Lewis, have fought too long and too hard for their right to vote to have it curtailed. Georgia has faced challenges before and overcome them, and we can do so again through the grit and ingenuity that has made America a shining example for democracies around the world.”

In the 2016 and 2018 November elections, around 95 percent of Georgia voters opted to cast their ballot in person versus the 5 percent who did so by mail. With social distancing as the most important tool for limiting the spread of coronavirus, providing alternatives to voting in person is crucial. All Georgia voters can request and vote an absentee ballot for any reason.

While Secretary Raffensperger is encouraging as many voters as possible to vote by mail, some rely on in-person voting to exercise their right to vote privately and securely. People without internet or mail access, such as those experiencing homelessness; Georgians who need language assistance; and people with disabilities who rely on voting machines to cast their ballot will still be able to do so in person on the state’s new voting system. Additionally, research from the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law shows that eliminating “in-person voting could disproportionately disenfranchise Black, Latino, and young voters”. Their right to vote too needs protection.

To that end, Raffensperger is taking extra steps to limit the threat of COVID-19 at the polling place. Poll workers will receive additional resources to clean the equipment regularly. In-person voters who show up to vote in person will be instructed to maintain a safe distance when waiting to vote.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger

These measures will protect poll workers as well. Understanding the extra risk Georgia’s generally elderly poll workers face, Raffensperger is working to help counties hire more and younger poll workers. Extra staff will allow those who feel sick to be absent from the polls without significantly impacting continuity while a younger pool of workers will increase resiliency in the face of the COVID-19 threat.

Speaker Ralston asks Raffensperger to move Georgia Primary

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ralston

ATLANTA, Ga – Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston (Ga -7) sent a letter to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) asking him to please move Georgia’s May 19th primary due to novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

In the letter, Ralston asserts that he would like the primary to be moved to a date of June 23 or later. He cites several other southern states that have already moved their May Primaries to June or July as a precautionary measure to keep the public safe.

An exert from the letter below:

“At the present time, our state, the entire nation and the world are confronted by a public health emergency of unprecedented magnitude.

Our prayer is that we will be on the other side of this difficult period sooner rather than later. However, the inescapable truth is that we do not know the duration of the immediate health peril. Reputable scientists and physicians cannot agree on its duration.

All of which means that the precautionary measures recommended by the CDC and adopted in executive order by Governor Kemp will continue for an unknown period of time.”

The Georgia Speaker of the House also addresses the right to vote as one of America’s “cherished freedoms” and it “should be free of impact from circumstances which create obstacles to its exercise.”

The May 19th primary puts Georgia over a month ahead of anyone else in the south.

View the full letter here. Secretary Raffensperger 3 26 2020

On Tuesday, March 24, Raffensperger announced that the Secretary of State’s Office would be mailing out absentee ballots to 6.9 Georgia voters for the May 19th primary. This was his answer to ensuring the health of Georgia voters and poll workers during the pandemic.

In a press release issued by Raffensperger on the absentee ballots, he said,

“Times of turbulence and upheaval like the one we Georgians face require decisive action if the liberties we hold so dear are to be preserved,” said Raffensperger. “I am acting today because the people of Georgia, from the earliest settlers to heroes like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Congressman John Lewis, have fought too long and too hard for their right to vote to have it curtailed. Georgia has faced challenges before and overcome them, and we can do so again through the grit and ingenuity that has made America a shining example for democracies around the world.”

In the 2016 and 2018 November elections, around 95 percent of Georgia voters opted to cast their ballot in person versus the 5 percent who did so by mail. With social distancing as the most important tool for limiting the spread of coronavirus, providing alternatives to voting in person is crucial. All Georgia voters can request and vote an absentee ballot for any reason.

While Secretary Raffensperger is encouraging as many voters as possible to vote by mail, some rely on in-person voting to exercise their right to vote privately and securely. People without internet or mail access, such as those experiencing homelessness; Georgians who need language assistance; and people with disabilities who rely on voting machines to cast their ballot will still be able to do so in person on the state’s new voting system. Additionally, research from the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law shows that eliminating “in-person voting could disproportionately disenfranchise Black, Latino, and young voters”. Their right to vote too needs protection.

To that end, Raffensperger is taking extra steps to limit the threat of COVID-19 at the polling place. Poll workers will receive additional resources to clean the equipment regularly. In-person voters who show up to vote in person will be instructed to maintain a safe distance when waiting to vote.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger

These measures will protect poll workers as well. Understanding the extra risk Georgia’s generally elderly poll workers face, Raffensperger is working to help counties hire more and younger poll workers. Extra staff will allow those who feel sick to be absent from the polls without significantly impacting continuity while a younger pool of workers will increase resiliency in the face of the COVID-19 threat.

Fannin County’s New Library : Boards work together for a common goal

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Fannin County, Board of Commissioners, Fannin County Public Library Board, Mountain Regional Library Board, Chairman, Director, Board member, Post One, Post Two, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Glenn Patterson, Ron Bolin, Claudia Gibson, Georgia House of Representatives, Speaker, David Ralston, grant, library, Sutton Architectural Services, Peter Sutton, Whitepath

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Will Fannin County finally have its stand alone library that so many citizens have petitioned for in the past? No, but the possibility of moving the current library to a larger more accommodating space is something that all agreed would be a vast improvement over the library’s current situation.

The Fannin County Board of Commissioners, the Fannin County Public Library Board and the Mountain Regional Library Board held a joint meeting to discuss the future of Fannin County’s Library and how to move forward to achieve a common goal.

“The purchase of the Whitepath building and moving the Administrative offices out of the courthouse fulfills a mandated referendum that was approved by the voters in Nov. 2016,” Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton said explaining the purpose of the called meeting. 

Fannin County, Board of Commissioners, Fannin County Public Library Board, Mountain Regional Library Board, Chairman, Director, Board member, Post One, Post Two, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Glenn Patterson, Ron Bolin, Claudia Gibson, Georgia House of Representatives, Speaker, David Ralston, grant, library, Sutton Architectural Services, Peter Sutton, Whitepath

Petere Sutton discusses possible options for the Fannin County’s new library.

Helton added, “During the move, moving there and design, we have an opportunity to offer the library a better space with improved parking.”

The two boards took the time to open up dialogue and lay the groundwork for the library’s possible move. 

Peter Sutton with Sutton Architectural Services was also present to help work through concerns and share his thoughts on the redesign of the Whitepath building.

Sutton pointed out that the buildings structure, upon initial inspection, was in good standing and that the process would really be one of converting the building from it’s industrial function to a building of administrative function.

Among Sutton’s ideas were the possibility for the library to have its own entrance, and noted that as the building stands now there would be enough room for the library to double its square footage.

Interim Regional Library Director for Mountain Regional Library System, Claudia Gibson spoke on the current library, “From what I’ve seen. I do think the library is very inadequate for library services. It’s very small. The parking, as you all know I’m sure, is very bad. We worry about children. They have to cross the street.”

The size of the new library was a key topic of discussion among library board members. The current square footage of the Fannin County Library is approximately 6,800 square feet.

Fannin County Public Library board member Ron Bolin stated that according to state standards the new library would need at least 19,000 square feet. Bolin added, “For me it is critical that we meet state standards.”

State standards of square footage for a library is based upon projected population growth and while Fannin County would ideally like to see 19,000 square feet for the new library, it is possible that the new facility could start out with less footage and be expanded at a later date.

Bolin also brought to the forefront the issue of funding, stating that not only is the grant from the state for $1.3 million not a done deal, but also that it was his understanding that the county was running on deficit in 2020 and wondered where the county’s portion of funds would come from.

The library board members all expressed that Speaker of the Georgia House Representatives David Ralston’s announcement of the grant had taken them off guard, and pointed out that the grant is still up in the air.

Fannin County’s library funding from the state is on a list at the capitol to be voted upon but that vote has not taken place yet. Funding from the state, if voted to be given to the Fannin County project, would not be available until July 2020 at the earliest.

Regardless of the question of funding, both parties agreed to take care of due diligence in order to give the county the best possible chance of receiving state grant. Members of the Board of Commissioners and the two boards representing the library system expressed enthusiasm in moving forward with the project.

Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson conveyed what seemed to be a mutual feeling of everyone involved, “I think it’s a very good avenue for all of us combined.”

The boards will meet at a later date to go over findings with state standards and discuss design and needs.

Ralston announces $1.3M in state funds for new Fannin County Public Library

Community, Featured, News
Fannin County Public Library

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) today announced a state grant of $1,383,000 to fund a new Fannin County Public Library. Local government will provide an additional $582,000 for a total project cost of $1,965,000.

“This is a tremendous win for our community, and this new library will be an important asset for years to come,” said Speaker David Ralston. “Whether it is inviting a child to read their first book, empowering a young person to research their higher education options or allowing community groups to gather, libraries touch people of all ages and enrich their lives. I want to thank County Commission Chairman Stan Helton and the Mountain Regional Library System for their efforts in making this new library a reality.”

The new Fannin County Public Library will be located in the old Whitepath building, purchased by Fannin County in 2019.

The new library will be located in the old Whitepath (Van Raalte) building in Blue Ridge. Fannin County will also be relocating its government administration offices to this building, freeing up office space in and easing traffic congestion around the Fannin County Courthouse. 

Fannin County purchased the Whitepath building in 2019.

County names John D McDaniel Bridge

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Fannin County is honoring its past this weekend as residents and local officials met over the weekend for a special celebration and honoring of a major figure from their past.

The Highway 515 Bridge in Fannin County that passes over Ada Street now has an official name, the “John D McDaniel Bridge.” The celebration saw family and friends with new signs for the bridge to formalize the naming.

McDaniel was not only a member of the clergy and a spiritual guide to citizens, but he previously served as a Commissioner of Education and served in the Georgia General Assembly from 1893 to 1897.

The event was also attended by current Fannin County Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney and Georgia Speaker of the House of Representatives David Ralston.

Ralston spoke about the event saying, “This past weekend, I was honored to be joined by the descendants of the Reverend John D. McDaniel as we dedicated the bridge on Highway 515 over Ada Street in Blue Ridge in his memory.”

With the signs up, Fannin memorializes a citizen from the past and honored his family who remain in the county he served so diligently.

Speaker Ralston Announces North Georgia Office of the Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation in Ellijay

News
(The following is a Press Release from the Office of David Ralston, Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives.)

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) today announced that the Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation has opened a North Georgia Office in Ellijay. The office is located in the Collaboration on River’s Edge (CORE) Building, a workplace innovation space and initiative of the Greater Gilmer Community Foundation.

“I am proud to welcome the Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation to Ellijay and look forward to the good work that will be done to further economic opportunity throughout rural Georgia,” said Speaker David Ralston. “This center is a direct result of the work of the House Rural Development Council and our continuing efforts to ensure prosperity is accessible to all Georgians – regardless of zip code.”

The center, also known as Georgia’s Rural Center, has named Janet Cochran to lead the North Georgia Office. Cochran comes to the center with more than a decade of experience as a project manager with the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

“Finding ways to not only maintain but to multiply the economic and cultural vitality present in so many of north Georgia’s small towns and rural communities relies heavily on relationships,” said Dr. David Bridges, Georgia’s Rural Center interim director, “and we know that our presence and personnel there will only improve our ability to facilitate positive outcomes. Janet brings a wealth of experience in managing economic development projects in this region of the state, and we’re excited to have her join our team in this role at the North Georgia Office.”

Headquartered at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, the Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation serves as a central information and research hub for rural best practices, including community planning, industry-specific assistance and cooperative efforts with community partners. The center was proposed by the House Rural Development Council in 2017 and was created by House Bill 951, which was enacted in 2018.

“Promoting a strong business environment that enhances the quality of our community is not just the chamber’s mission in words, it is behind everything we do. The opening of CORE and the Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation is a cornerstone moment in that mission and one that we have worked tirelessly to support and create for many years. I join with our 650 members in celebrating,” remarked John Marshall, Gilmer Chamber Chairman of the Board.

“As chairman of the Greater Gilmer Community Foundation it has been our goal as a private, citizen funded organization to help spur economic growth for our community and region. CORE being the home to the Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation North Georgia office brings our vision to reality. We look forward to continuing to serve our communities for years to come,” said Kent Sanford, Chairman of the Board.

“Working with Speaker of the House David Ralston and the House leadership to bring the Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation North Georgia office to our community will have economic impact to the entire region. We look forward to continuing to work to insure the success of the center and all of our partners within CORE,” remarked Lex Rainey, Greater Gilmer Joint Development Authority Chairman of the Board.

Located in Gilmer County, Ellijay is a thriving rural community in the North Georgia mountains, offering a unique blend of southern hospitality and natural beauty. The area leads Georgia in apple production and is a center for agribusiness and agritourism.

For more information about the Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation, visit http://www.ruralga.org/.

CORE receives grant and state office at ribbon-cutting

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – “This is the kind of project that will spread prosperity throughout our entire region. It is the kind of skin-in-the-game project that deserves support…” Georgia Speaker of the House, David Ralston praised the CORE Facility in Ellijay who hosted their official ribbon-cutting today.

Nestled just off Maddox Drive on the banks of the Coosawattee River in Ellijay, Georgia, the CORE Facility hosts business offices and incubation locations for entrepreneurs and start-ups in need of an office or workspace without the hassles of long-term investment.

Left to right, Gilmer Commission Chairman Charlie Paris, Fannin Commission Chairman Stan Helton, and Pickens Commission Chairman Rob Jones celebrate with Greater Gilmer JDA Executive Director Kent Sanford at the CORE Facility ribbon-cutting in Ellijay, Georgia, on July 24, 2019.

However, the facility’s impact reaches so much farther than the city limits or the county’s borders. Today marked a celebration for the region and for the state. Representatives statewide joined together for this ribbon cutting including Gilmer Commission Chairman Charlie Paris, Gilmer Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson, Pickens Commission Chairman Rob Jones, Fannin Commission Chairman Stan Helton, Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston, State Senator Steve Gooch, State Representative of District 11 Rick Jasperse, Ellijay City Mayor Al Hoyle, Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, and many representatives from the Ellijay and East Ellijay City Councils and Gilmer Board of Education. Efforts from many organizations have led into combined organizations such as the Greater Gilmer Joint Development Authority (JDA) and the Greater Gilmer Community Foundation.

That Foundation was the birthplace of the initiative to build CORE. According to Kent Sanford, Executive Director of the Greater Gilmer JDA and part of the Greater Gilmer Community Foundation, a 14-month birth cycle has finally come to full fruition.

While the celebration was a culmination of efforts so far, it is only the beginning. It is a project that holds great impact on the future, according to Ralston who said, “It will create jobs in our area. The jobs of tomorrow will be possible because of the work that goes on in this building.”

Speaker of the House, David Ralston announces a $420,000 state grant for the CORE facility to applause from attendees at the ribbon-cutting on July 24, 2019.

Ralston also dedicated support to the facility as he announced, “Because of the local commitment to the CORE building the State of Georgia, through our OneGeorgia Authority, is awarding $420,000 to this project to be used for Facility purchase and improvement costs. This $420,000 grant is historic, both in terms of its dollar amount and the impact it will have on this project and community.”

Ralston continued speaking about the economic development and job creation in the county before offering the second announcement of the day regarding the Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation, also known as Georgia’s Rural Center.

Ralston stated at the ribbon-cutting, “I am proud to announce that the new North Georgia of the Georgia Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation will be housed right here in Ellijay in this facility. The office will be led by Janet Cochran.”

Ralston’s office later offered a full Press Release on the announcement stating the center serves as a central information and research hub for rural best practices, including community planning, industry-specific assistance and cooperative efforts with community partners. The center was proposed by the House Rural Development Council in 2017 and was created by House Bill 951, which was enacted in 2018.

The Georgia Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation, also known as Georgia’s Rural Center, was officially announced to open a North Georgia Office at Gilmer’s CORE facility during a ribbon-cutitng on July 24, 2019.

These announcements were applauded by those present and praised by the Chairman of the Gilmer Chamber, John Marshall, who said, “Mr. Speaker, once again you have proven yourself to be the very epitome of a stalwart and faithful advocate not only to your hometown and all the other communities in these beautiful North Georgia Mountains, but to each and every corner of the state of Georgia.”

President of the Gilmer Chamber, Paige Green also praised the facility as the realization of a dream for the community that has spread to benefit not only one county but something larger that now spans the region.

Today was a celebration of completing the first steps of a larger plan for the facility. Though it is now open, it is only the first phase of that dream. Director Sanford noted last year that the hopes for the facility include two more phases.

In Phase II, the foundation will continue renovation onto the second floor to open up a larger area for education and training in a 1,200 square foot space upstairs.

In Phase III, hopes for the CORE Facility could extend into the schools for things like STEM Classes, STEM Saturdays, or other forays into education connection. Consolidating resources for these could include shared STEM kits or a shared expense for a STEM subscription service involving 3d-printing necessary components. However, specific details into PHASE III have yet to be finalized.

Ultimately, the CORE wants to continue spreading and growing this larger community where possible. Opportunities that may come have yet to be revealed, but one ribbon-cutting today, one celebration, can lead to something bigger than imagining tomorrow.

Celebration of the Copper Basin. The tri-cities work together for a common goal.

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – A celebration of the progress made and a look at future plans for the tri-cities of McCaysville, Ga., Copperhill and Ducktown, Tn. was recently held at the Burra Burra Seafood restaurant. The Copper Basin RSVP Reveal gave the public a look at what can be accomplished when multiple agencies work together for one common goal.

Crowd gathered at Burra Burra Seafood to discuss the future of the Copper Basin.

Zachary Welch, Chairman of the Revitalization Committee and member of the Renaissance Steering Committee, gave thanks to the numerous individuals, businesses and organizations involved in the process. Welch enthusiastically declared, “It’s a very exciting time for our area.”

Citizens and visitors are already noticing a more welcoming feel to the towns. Streetscapes have begun in several areas, flower pots have been placed and filled, hanging floral baskets now adorn the iconic bridges, and the McCaysville mall has seen a complete makeover with numerous businesses spriningup to fill vacant spots.

One of the most notable figures that has pushed forward the revitalization of the area is McCaysville resident Mike Galinski of Galinski Enterprises. 

“Just a super guy,” Welch said introducing Galinski to the crowd. “I am so thankful to be blessed with having him come into our community, invest his time and his resources and really help kick off revitalization of our town.”

Phase One of Galinski’s vision included restoring buildings in the area both structurally and aesthetically, in his words he wanted to “bring the buildings back to life”.

“We’ve been listening to the people and what they want,” Galinski said of the direction his projects have taken, adding that he has plans to begin an ice cream parlor in the mall.

Mike Galinski and Zachary Welch discussing the progress made and the future of area.

“I want to make it family friendly,” Galinski said of the initially named ‘Happy Bear’ ice cream parlor. “If you take your kid to the Happy Bear Ice Cream, how could they not be happy?”

Also slated for the town of McCaysville is a 12,000 square foot McCaysville Event Center and music venue. This project, still in its design phase, will need to meet state approval before construction can begin. 

Galinski said of the proposed event center, “It should be able to hold a pretty large amount, but also do small parties.”

Of those on hand to celebrate the success and direction of the Copper Basin district was Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives David Ralston.

“What a great day to be in the Copper Basin,” Ralston spoke with the excitement shared by all involved.  “I can’t tell you what it means to see the enthusiasm and pride that this community has.”

Ralston gave personal thanks to the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, a branch of the University of Georgia, who has worked with the citizens of Copper Basin to brand the area and give direction to several projects. Ralston also gave thanks to the Lyndhurst Foundation of Tennessee who funded the planning.

Ralston then addressed Galinski, who he feels has spearheaded the revitalization in the area, “Mike, thank you for your passion for this community, and your vision, and your investment, of not only your time and resources, but your creativity. You have truly been a transformative leader here.”

Senior Public Service Associate with the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, Danny Bevins, spoke of future goals for the tri-cities and the unification through branding that his team was able to create.

Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives David Ralston celebrates the success of the area.

Details to the branding and future plans where scrutinized and thoughtfully presented in order to “tell the story” of the people and the land. The Copper Basin logos and designs are free for all to use.

Bevins said of his team’s work and the over 600 survey responses received concerning the course of the Copper Basin area, “This planning process is not our plan, it’s all your all’s plan.”

“We heard a lot about a riverwalk,” Bevins spoke of the citizens’ input and added that plans have been made to incorporate the river into the plans for McCaysville and Copperhill. The future of the river in the twin towns will host  “small gathering and sitting areas that are connected from both sides of the river, up and down”.

Other plans include a new park added as a continuation of the existing park in McCaysville, Wayfinding Signs, street and sidewalk improvements, benches and connecting walkways, and public art to enhance the feel in the area

Revitalization is undeniable in the area, and it is the hope of all involved to turn the Copper Basin district into a destination that is “Too Great For One State”.

McCaysville Mayor, Thomas Seabolt, being presented with a plan of the area.

 

Copperhill Mayor, Kathy Stewart, was also presented with a framed plan of the area.

 

Jan Hackett and David Ralston pose with a framed plan, that Ralston said would hang at the state capital.

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