Officers honored for life saving actions

Community, Fannin County EMA/EMS, News, Police & Government
Fannin County, Georgia, Sheriff’s Office, Emergency Management, EMA, EMS, First Responders, Fire Department, Paramedics, Narcan, Life Saving, Overdose, Corporal Dustin Carter, Investigator Gary Edwards

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Two officers with the Fannin County Sheriff’s Department were honored for their quick thinking that resulted in a life being saved.

A call came through dispatch of a single vehicle accident on Highway 2 near Flowers Baking Company. A silver Ford Focus driven by Michael Peppers of Blue Ridge had left the roadway and struck a tree.

Fannin County, Georgia, Sheriff’s Office, Emergency Management, EMA, EMS, First Responders, Fire Department, Paramedics, Narcan, Life Saving, Overdose, Corporal Dustin Carter, Investigator Gary Edwards

(L – R) Investigator Gary Edwards, Corporal Dustin Carter

Corporal Dustin Carter and Investigator Gary Edwards were first to respond to the scene and saw that the male driver was alone and trapped in the vehicle.

“The door panel was crushed from striking the tree,” Investigator Edwards spoke of the scene upon arrival. 

The door was unable to be opened and both officers saw the condition of Peppers deteriorating.

“He was slightly responsive. He was losing color and as we were speaking to him, his condition worsened and he just went out, non-responsive, lost all of his color,” Edwards recounted the quickness in which Peppers’ condition worsened.

Accident reports from that day detail how Peppers’ skin color began to become grayish in hue as his eyes rolled back and his breathing came to almost a complete stop.

“He was on the verge of completely not breathing. He was having agonal respirations,” Fannin County EMA Director Robert Graham spoke of Carter and Edwards’ actions and explained that agonal respirations is a gasping for air that is associated with body reflex and is seen in medical emergencies.

Investigator Edwards and Corporal Carter worked together to free Peppers from the vehicle, Edwards having to break out the back window to gain access. It was at this point that Carter recognized the signs of a possible overdose and Edwards retrieved his supply of Narcan.

Narcan is a nasal spray used for the treatment of an opioid emergency or a possible opioid overdose with signs of breathing problems.

Upon returning, Edwards reported that Carter was able to free Peppers from the vehicle and had him laying down on the ground. Edwards administered the nasal Narcan and Peppers began to breathe and move again.

When paramedics arrived, both officers helped to load Peppers onto the stretcher and observed that he was talking to paramedics as they left the scene.

“Seeing his reactions. From the time we got there, he was kind of responsive to unresponsive in just a few minutes,” Carter explained the decision to use Narcan. Carter says that training and experience are how he was able to quickly recognize the signs of a possible overdose.

The officers were given pins of recognition by Fannin County’s Emergency Management Team to acknowledge that their quick thinking and actions were directly responsible for saving a life.


Natalie Kissel

New Transportation Facility a possibility for Fannin County School System

Community, News, Rebel's Corner

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Fannin County School System (FCSS) unveiled two new structures that if voted for, could replace outdated buildings and give much needed space back to the Fannin County school campuses.

The Board of Education got a first look at possible design plans for a new Transportation Facility and a Staff Development Center.

Last year the school system purchased land from the U.S. Forest Service that the service had deemed not necessary for their use any longer. The land, approximately 37 acres, is located near Blue Ridge Dam off of Highway 76.

Darren Danner, Assistant Superintendent of Facilities and Operations, explained the history of the purchase and the need for the proposed new buildings.

“We’re trying to build a transportation facility,” Danner said, explaining that currently the district has to service their fleet in a “bus garage” which lacks the space for efficiency when servicing a large number of buses.

The Staff Development Center would fill a need for the school system, as currently different rooms around the various campuses have had to be put into use for training.

“Once we got our initial drawings of the Transportation Facility, we noticed we had all this space left over,” Danner spoke of how talks for a Staff Development Center came about; the school system would want to utilize as much as possible of the acreage purchased.

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Proposed floor plan of Transportation Facility.

Doug Breaux and Henry Pineda of Breaux and Associates Architects showed board members renderings and plans for the two new facilities.

Breaux and Associates Architects is a Georgia based architectural firm that specializes in educational facility planning and design.

The main building of the Transportation Facility would be approximately 17,000 square feet. Of this, 12,000 square feet would be designated for bus maintenance and supply storage, including three full service bays. The remaining 5,000 square feet would be set aside as an administration/training area.

This design also includes a covered outdoor area for buses to have quick tune-ups or fixes without taking the space of one of the full bays.

Also on the transportation campus would be a driver training course, a fueling station and a parking area large enough to accommodate FCSS’s entire fleet.

The Staff Development Center similarly would have a large footprint and would house not only training areas and conference rooms, but would also become the new location for the district’s administration and Board of Education. 

In the floor plan presented by Breaux and Associates Architects, the Staff Development Center would be divided into two sides based on purpose. The left hand side would be used for the staff development and training while the right hand side would be designated for administration.

“It is designed so that if there is ever a need for expansion, the building can actually expand toward the right hand side. If there is ever a need for more offices,” Doug Breaux said of the consideration for growth when designing the floor plan.

The Staff Development Center will be considered second after the Transportation Facility, as the need for the Transportation Facility is more pressing.

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Proposed floor plan of the Staff Development Center.

However, cost saving measures can be taken now, when planning for the future of the site.

Drew Watson, President of Bowen and Watson Construction, explained even if the Staff Development Center were to be put on hold, preparing the land for both projects at the same time would save money.

“In discussing the development of the site,” Watson spoke to the board, “you would save a lot of money if you were ever going to build the Staff Development Center, to go ahead and grade for that now.” 

According to Watson a big expense in construction and in grading in particular is the import and export of soils. 

“This would allow us to balance the site now,” Watson explained the benefits of completing both areas simultaneously.

Board of Education members asked several questions pertaining to costs, but since the project(s) are still in the preliminary stages overall costs cannot be determined until the board gives approval to move forward with getting these estimations.

No set date was given on when the BOE would hold a vote on these future construction projects.


Feature Image : One of the proposed renderings of the Staff Development Center presented by Breaux and Associates Architects.


Natalie Kissel

Update On Opening Fannin’s Schools

Community, News, Rebel's Corner

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Fannin County School System (FCSS) has released more details about reopening plans for students opting to attend in-person schooling during the 2020-21 school year.

Assistant Superintendent of Achievement and Governance, Sarah Rigdon, updated the Board of Education (BOE) on the latest decisions to reopen Fannin County’s Schools in August.

“We are revising our plans somewhat,” Rigdon said of the ever changing guidelines related to Covid-19, “because we want to also be good stewards and good partners with our governor in trying to keep everyone in Georgia safe and healthy.”

Rigdon referenced Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s “Four for Four” plan, where Kemp is urging Georgians to follow these four guidelines for four weeks:

  • Wear a mask when out in public or when you cannot keep distance inside.
  • Practice physical distancing – six feet from those you don’t live with.
  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds several times throughout the day with soap and warm water.
  • Follow the executive order and heed the guidance provided by public health officials.

According to Kemp, if Georgians commit to these four things, “we can make incredible progress in the fight against Covid-19”.

With the “Four for Four” plan in mind, the school system has outlined a few new procedures for school students this year.

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Rigdon updates the board on school reopening plans.

Rigdon gave an update for students who will be riding school buses this year. The plan for buses was previously still in the works when the initial reopening update was given at the BOE’s July 9th meeting.

After consulting with medical professionals, school and district leaders, the FCSS has decided that masks will be required for all students riding buses. 

Disposable masks will be available to students riding buses as well as hand sanitizer to be used before boarding the bus.

“That is a requirement, not an encouragement or suggestion,” Rigdon emphasized of the decision for riders to be required to wear a mask.

Social distancing is just not possible for students on buses and Rigdon stated of preventing person-to-person spread of Covid-19, “The best defense against that is going to be masking up.” 

Students may also receive assigned seating on buses.

FCSS is still not making masks a requirement for students and staff inside school buildings, but are highly encouraging the mask wearing practice.

The district received a donation of cloth masks from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) and will offer all students who are attending face-to-face school one of  these masks.

For parents, guardians and visitors to any of the school campuses, a mask or face covering will be required along with a symptom check before entering any buildings.

Employees of the FCSS will participate in Covid-19 related training. The training will consist of guidance about “best practices and instances when face coverings will be required”.

This specific situational guidance and training will be reviewed by the Department of Public Health.

Lastly, school specific plans for safely reopening are still being worked out among the individual schools. Staff will be given this information before returning on August 3 and parents/guardians will be given this information prior to August 7.

“The guidance is constantly updated,” Rigdon spoke about the individual schools’ finalizing plans and that these plans could still change as the district receives new information.



Featured Image Courtesy of Fannin County School System


Natalie Kissel

Cioffi accepts Assistant Superintendent position in Massachusetts

Community, News, Rebel's Corner

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Fannin County High School Principal Erik Cioffi will be leaving the Rebels for a new position as Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources and Personnel with a school system in Massachusetts.

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Cioffi submitted his resignation to FCSS on July 17, 2020.

Cioffi submitted his resignation to the Fannin County School System (FCSS) to be effective August 28, 2020. The Board of Education is expected to accept this resignation at a special called meeting on July 23,2020.

This move allows us to be closer to our immediate families in New England,” Cioffi said of the new position he will be filling in Massachusetts. “I was born and raised in Massachusetts so I will be returning home.”

Cioffi said in an email sent out to colleagues that his family will remain in Georgia to complete their senior year at Fannin County High School, but that all will be reunited upon graduation. He plans to visit frequently and attend events throughout the year.

The resignation date of August 28 will allow Cioffi to remain with the FCSS to help bring in the start of this unusual school year with new protocols in place due to Covid-19. 

Cioffi acknowledged his intention to be an active member in restarting the school year : “Many protocols and procedures will be fine-tuned over the next couple of weeks as we seek guidance from the North Georgia Public Health Department and local leaders.”

I want to “Thank you” for an amazing 11 years – I will reflect often on the successes and relationships that have been built and I truly believe the staff at FCHS is one of the best in the country,” Cioffi said to his colleagues adding, “Thank you for your efforts and dedication to the students of Fannin.”  

The Fannin County School System has listed an anticipated job opening of High School Principal on their website (anticipated because Cioffi’s resignation is not finalized until the BOE holds an official vote).

The website states that the position is not an entry level leadership position and “a preferred applicant’s portfolio will highlight prior successful teaching- and leadership-related experiences, demonstrate effective communication skills, and prove one’s ability to lead.”

Applications can be filled out online, via the FCSS website. Interested individuals who qualify should ensure that a completed application is entered online (in Frontline) no later than 4:00 p.m. on Friday, July 31, 2020.


Natalie Kissel

McCaysville Police Department face major budget cuts

Community, News, Police & Government


McCaysville, Ga. – The City of McCaysville Police Department (MPD) recently saw major cuts in the form of lay-offs and overtime elimination. 

The McCaysville City Council voted unanimously on the cuts (with the exception of Larry Collis who has a conflict of interest and must recuse himself from voting on police related matters).

After an executive session, council returned with council member Gilida Carter stating, “We’ve been in here making some very, very difficult decisions,” and adding, “This has been really gut wrenching. We’ve worried about it. We’ve put time in on it, but we are going to have to make some changes.”

McCaysville, Georgia, Fannin County, Police, Budget, City Council, Michael Earley, Gilida Carter, Jason Woody, Billy Brackett, Gary Hollloway

(L) Officer Gary Holloway (R) Captain Billy Brackett

Among the changes made by council were the elimination of the position of Investigator that was held by Captain Billy Brackett, also the elimination of MPD’s most recent full time hire Officer Gary Holloway, and eliminating overtime pay for Chief of Police Michael Earley by moving him to salary.

“We are definitely going to have to cut or the city is not going to have the money to go on over the next year,” Carter said of the motions being passed. “These gentlemen will have the opportunity to apply for unemployment. This is not firing. This is layoffs.”

Earley spoke during the monthly Police Update starting off, “I would like to ask the council why they lied to me?”

According to Earley, council member Collis had assured him two days prior to the meeting that everything was fine with the department.

Collis, who was visibly upset by the events, later in the meeting spoke up saying, “I would make the suggestion that those that voted for this fiasco forfeit their 911 service and show some solidarity.”

Of main concern to Earley is the dangers his officers would face working shifts alone. Earley informed the council that overtime would more than likely be unavoidable: “I’m asking the council, begging the council, don’t let my officers be out there by themselves during the night or during the day.”

“Well with the staff that you had, you had tremendous overtime. Why was that?” Carter questioned Earley.

“Cause calls keep coming in,” Earley answered back.

Earley spoke of the job that police officers do and the dangers of the job, “Police officers are willing to do what most people cannot or will not do on a day to day basis. They put themselves in dangerous situations that could end with them being hurt or even killed.” 

He later likened the council’s move to that of the national political movement to defund the police, “You are creating that animosity that should not exist. You are putting that target on our backs. You are making it unsafe for us to go to work. Is it money? Are we trying to distract and deter for political gain? What is the reason?” 

“For the people out there that are hypocrites, who say you support the police and pat us on the back and then stab us in the back saying we got too many police officers and we need to cut. You should be ashamed of yourself because you know you are doing this for political reasons,” Earley spoke to the council.

Council member Jason Woody replied to Earley’s questioning, “We are not defunding the police department. If we keep going the way that we are going right now, within six months we will not have a General Fund. It will be down to zero.”

Council members stated that every department in the city has cut their budgets and there have also been layoffs in these other departments.

The other departments which include, Administrative, Street Department and Water Department had already cut their budgets, with the Police Department stating that they couldn’t find any cuts to be made and were still requesting an increase.

As of May 22, 2020 the total fund expenditures for the City of McCaysville was estimated to come to $1,413,184.32 with revenues coming of $866,805.17, giving the city a $546,379.15 shortfall. Of these numbers the Police Department expenditures accounted for around 70 percent of the current revenue.

“Right now the money is not there. It’s not been there for awhile,” Woody said of the cuts and the city’s budget, “For every department, as the year progresses we will reassess, we will see what we can do to help alleviate the pressure off these departments.”

The McCaysville Police Department Statistics for the month of June were:

  • 76 – 911 calls
  • 90 – traffic stops
  • 10 – citations
  • 98 – warnings
  • 75 – walk-ins
  • 1 – arrest 
  • 139 – phone calls
McCaysville, Georgia, Fannin County, Police, Budget, City Council, Michael Earley, Gilida Carter, Jason Woody, Billy Brackett, Gary Hollloway

McCaysville Department Budget Overview


McCaysville, Georgia, Fannin County, Police, Budget, City Council, Michael Earley, Gilida Carter, Jason Woody, Billy Brackett, Gary Hollloway

McCaysville Police Department Budget 2016 – 2020


McCaysville, Georgia, Fannin County, Police, Budget, City Council, Michael Earley, Gilida Carter, Jason Woody, Billy Brackett, Gary Hollloway

McCaysville Administrative Budget 2016 -2020


McCaysville, Georgia, Fannin County, Police, Budget, City Council, Michael Earley, Gilida Carter, Jason Woody, Billy Brackett, Gary Hollloway

McCaysville Street Department Budget 2016 -2020


McCaysville, Georgia, Fannin County, Police, Budget, City Council, Michael Earley, Gilida Carter, Jason Woody, Billy Brackett, Gary Hollloway

McCaysville Water Department (Water Distribution Only) Budget 2016 -2020


Natalie Kissel

Update: Two deaths, 157 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Fannin County

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) is reporting that there have been 157 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Fannin County. This information comes from the DPH Thursday, July 16 report at 7:oo p.m. DPH is also reporting that 12 of these cases have required hospitalizations.

The latest DPH report is also confirming a second Covid-19 related death for a Fannin County resident.

The total number of 157 confirmed positive cases for the county is a cumulative number and includes cases dating back to March. DPH is not reporting the number of recoveries due to the inefficiency in tracking cases. Instead of recording recoveries, many states are reporting “known outcomes”. These cases are where a patient required hospitalization. In these cases, it is observable to medical to staff whether or not the patient recovered.

Fannin County has seen a spike in the recent number of cases over the last couple of weeks, with cases jumping by sometimes 20 in a single day. This is due to the virus seeing a resurgence in spread and also due to the availability of testing ,with more people getting tested.

At this time, Fetch Your News does not have any additional details about these cases.  We will bring you updates as soon as information is available for the public.

The total cumulative number of cases in Georgia as of the July 16, 7:00 p.m. update is now total number of confirmed cases 135,183 with 14,647 hospitalized (2,781 ICU Admissions), and 3,132 deaths. 1,198,678 tests have been administered in Georgia.

Timeline of First 35 Confirmed Cases in Fannin County:

  • First Case – March 24, 7:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Second Case – March 27, 12:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Third Case – March 27, 7:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Fourth Case – March 31, 12:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Fifth Case – April 1, 12:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Sixth Case – April 1, 7:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Seventh and Eighth Cases – April 2, 7:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Ninth Case – April 6, 12:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth Cases – April 13, 7:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Thirteenth Case – April 14, 12:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Fourteenth Case – April 15, 12:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Fifteenth Case – April 17, 7:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Sixteenth Case – April 19, 12:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Cases – April 20, 7:00 p.m. DPH update
  • First Death Reported – April 20, 7:00 p.m. DPH Update
  • ***April 22, 12:00 p.m. DPH update; DPH rescinded the death reported on April 20 bringing Fannin’s count back to zero deaths. Also rescinded was the additional case reported on April 20, bringing Fannin’s total confirmed cases back to 18.
  • Nineteenth and Twentieth cases – April 22, 7:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Twenty-first case – April 24, 7:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Twenty-second and Twenty-third cases – April 26, 7:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Twenty-fourth case – April 27, 7:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Twenty-fifth and Twenty-sixth cases – April 28, 6:00 p.m. DPH update
  • First Death Reported – April 28, 6:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Twenty-seventh and Twenty-eighth cases – April 29, 7:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Twenty-ninth case – April 30, 6:40 p.m. DPH update
  • Thirtieth case – May 1, 6:25 p.m. DPH update
  • Thirty-first case – May 2, 6:25 p.m. DPH update
  • Thirty-second case – May 5, 6:25 p.m. DPH update
  • Thirty-third case – May 6, 6:25 p.m. DPH update
  • Thirty-fourth case – May 7, 6:25 p.m. DPH update
  • Thirty-fifth case – May 12, 7:00 p.m. DPH update

*Fetch Your News has chosen to report on cases confirmed by the Georgia Department of Health (DPH) only. These reports may not reflect real-time spread as the laboratories processing COVID-19 tests are reportedly backlogged by several days. Fetch Your News is also reaching out to local sources to confirm positive cases before writing articles on the subject. 

 Inconsistency in data being reported:

The Georgia Department of Health originally reported one death in Fannin County due to Covid-19 in their April 20, 7:00 p.m. update. This update listed the victim as a 74 year old male with underlying health conditions. 

DPH also reported a 19 confirmed case of Covid-19 in Fannin County.

In their April 22, 12:00 p.m. update, DPH rescinded both the reported death and additional case. This brings Fannin County total cases to 18 with zero deaths from Covid-19.

This is not the first time that there have been discrepancies in DPH reporting for Fannin County. DPH had reported a 10th case earlier in April, but then later rescinded this case bring the total back down to 9.

First Case in Fannin County Original Story Below:

The Georgia Department of Public Health confirmed on Tuesday, March 24 in their 7:00 p.m. update, that Fannin County has recorded its first confirmed case of Coronavirus (Covid-19).

While there have been several suspected cases in Fannin County, until today all tests had come back negative. 

The first confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Georgia was announced by state officials on March 2. These cases were of a Fulton man in his 50’s that had recently returned from a work trip in Milan, and his 15-year-old son.

Georgia’s total number of positive cases confirmed by DPH as of 7:00 p.m. on March 24, has risen to 1097. 

At this time DPH has noted 38 deaths related to Covid-19 in Georgia.

Neighboring counties are reporting zero cases in Gilmer County and zero cases in Union County.

DPH updates the list of confirmed cases in Georgia at noon and 7 p.m. each day. The numbers are expected to increase as more testing becomes available to the public.

FYN will bring you more details as they become available.


Natalie Kissel

Miller questions district’s plans to reopen schools

Community, News, Rebel's Corner

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Dr. Dillon Miller of Blue Ridge Medical Group spoke publicly at the recent Fannin County Board of Education (BOE) meeting about his concerns with the district’s plans to reopen schools in August.

Miller was previously consulted before the decision was made to close schools, prior to the state mandated closure, in March. However, Miller was not a part of the process in the decisions made to reopen.

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Photo courtesy of Blue Ridge Medical Group.

Tonight the Fannin BOE presented their plans for returning to school in the fall. These plans were finalized in the absence of my husband, the Chief Medical Officer at Fannin Regional Hospital,” Jocelyn Miller, Dillon Miller’s wife, said in a statement on Facebook following the BOE decision.

Jocelyn went on to say, “He has no agenda other than to protect the lives of students, teachers, and staff in our community. His view is limited to the best medical science that currently exists and is in accordance with regulations outlined by the CDC.”

Among Miller’s concerns are the district’s lack of planning to require students and staff to social distance or in the absence of distancing, wear a mask.

I wear a mask all day. I do not enjoy it, but I do it because it keeps people safe,” Miller spoke to the BOE, adding, “Some are concerned about it depriving your body of oxygen, this is not true.  What is true is that If everyone is wearing a mask, this significantly reduces transmission of covid-19.”

Miller spoke of the seriousness that he has witnessed with Covid-19 (SARS-CoV-2) and the possibility of spiking cases in the Fall and Winter months: “This is not the flu. Never in my experience as a physician have I seen tertiary hospital ICUs filled to capacity in July.”

As a community physician my greatest concern is the safety and health of the teachers and staff. These individuals are on the front lines caring for our children and putting themselves at the greatest risk,” Miller stated explaining that while children might display minor symptoms or none at all, they are still able to pass the virus on to those in more susceptible age groups.

According to Miller complacency could lead to Fannin County seeing a more serious outbreak, like those seen in other counties in Georgia.

Dr. Dillon Miller’s full statement to the Fannin County Board of Education:

I want to briefly go over the medical recommendations for preventing the spread of covid 19 in schools.

There are three ways we know we can prevent the spread of Covid 19

  1.     Handwashing
  2.     6-foot social distancing
  3.     Wearing a face mask

Handwashing is self-explanatory, so I would like to discuss the other two.

Studies show that if you are within six feet of an infected individual in an enclosed space for longer than 15 minutes, your chances of catching covid-19 increase significantly. Under typical conditions students and teachers are within feet of one another for hours at a time. If it is not possible to spread students six feet apart, the science clearly states that masks must be worn. This is the policy being enforced at universities around the state.  

As a physician I cannot support a plan moving forward that does not mandate 6 foot social distancing and when this is not possible have a mask requirement.

I wear a mask all day. I do not enjoy it, but I do it because it keeps people safe. Some are concerned about it depriving your body of oxygen, this is not true.  What is true is that If everyone is wearing a mask, this significantly reduces transmission of covid-19.  Remember masks protect others more than they protect the wearer.  This is one of the best weapons in our arsenal.

Some people believe that children cannot become infected with covid-19. While children under 15 are less likely to be infected and will develop less severe complications, there is still debate about their level of infectiousness. Teenagers, however, are more susceptible than small children and more likely to spread the disease. Some of the first cases in Fannin County involved high school students.

As a community physician my greatest concern is the safety and health of the teachers and staff. These individuals are on the front lines caring for our children and putting themselves at the greatest risk. Masks and six-foot social distancing are their only forms of protection. If you are not mandating masks or social distancing you are denying them a safe work environment.

This is not the flu. Never in my experience as a physician have I seen tertiary hospital ICUs filled to capacity in July. Some hospitals that regularly accept transfers of the sickest patients are not accepting transfers due to lack of beds. July is when doctors go on vacation and relax, this is not normal. Expect the fall and winter to see even more cases.

Due to the bold choices made by the board of education and community in March, we in Fannin county have not experienced a surge of covid cases like other areas in the state but that can change if we become complacent.

Thank you and I pray for your health and safety.


Natalie Kissel

Students return to school August 7th : What to expect

Board of Education, News, Rebel's Corner
Fannin County, School System, Board of Education, Reopening, First Day, School Year, 2020, 2021, 2020-21, Covid-19, Coronavirus, Department of Education, Georgia, Online Learning, Traditional, Superintendent, Michael Gwatney, Sarah Rigdon, Masks, Safety

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Students of the Fannin County School System (FCSS) will have the option of returning to school in a modified traditional setting or utilizing online learning for the 2020-21 school year.

School Administration released their plans for reopening schools at the Board of Education (BOE) regular July meeting.

Assistant Superintendent Sarah Rigdon gave the board an overview of what to expect when school comes back into session. 

Fannin County, School System, Board of Education, Reopening, First Day, School Year, 2020, 2021, 2020-21, Covid-19, Coronavirus, Department of Education, Georgia, Online Learning, Traditional, Superintendent, Michael Gwatney, Sarah Rigdon, Masks, Safety

Rigdon presented the BOE with administration’s plan to reopen schools.

The Georgia Department of Education (DOE) released guidelines in early June for schools to consider when reopening in the State of Georgia. These guidelines, however, were only recommendations and the ultimate decisions for school operations were left up to the districts.

The DOE guidelines, along with guidance from both local and state authorities, as well as guardian and faculty input helped shape the approach that the FCSS is choosing to implement for the time being.

“The important part for us was to get the information and make the best decisions that we can,” Fannin County School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney spoke of the system’s plan. “This plan is subject to change. We need to think of this as a living document. It will be modified as new things are learned.”


***Important Dates***

Traditional school, or in person education will begin on August 7, 2020.

Faculty and Staff are to report on August 3, 2020.

Online Learning will also begin on August 7, 2020.

Parents and Guardians may enroll their child for Online Learning between July 10 – July 20, 2020.


***Online Learning***

For those not comfortable with the traditional in class setting, an online option will be available. Assistant Superintendent Rigdon stressed that this online option will not mirror the distance learning that the school put in place upon the mandatory closure earlier this year.

The online learning platform will be run through a 3rd party that is yet to be determined. The platform will provide instruction to the child with the parent or guardian being a “learning coach”.

Students enrolled in online learning will spend the majority of the traditional school day (8:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.) either working online or working to complete assignments given online. Attendance will be taken and monitored via login and assignments completed.

There will be FCSS personnel assigned to check on each child’s progress. The “learning coaches” will be given the name of someone at the school who can help them navigate the program or assist with issues.

The content of the online learning platform, according to FCSS, will be “rigorous and graded”.

Students enrolled in Online Learning will be able to participate in sports and extracurricular activities. 

While the FCSS is not requiring that students sign a contract to remain in the online platform once enrolled (many other districts have this requirement), they would like to see those enrolled stay with the program through the first semester or for the entirety of the school year.

“We are not asking parents to sign a commitment, but we do want them to be extremely thoughtful as they make that decision because it is going to require us to allocate and spend funds that could be better spent if they’re not going to stick with the program,” Rigdon explained of the need for students and guardians to consider the decision heavily.

Rigdon did add for those who enroll but discover that the online platform is not working for them, “We are never turning a child away from our schools.”

Students utilizing the Online Learning platform will complete assignments from a school issued device. FCSS will provide a WiFi hotspot for students without internet, but these hotspots work much like mobile phones, so if you are an area with poor cell phone service it is likely that the hotspot would not work for you.

Online Learning is available for children in grades Kindergarten – 12. This includes children with IEPs (Individualized Educational Program). Online Learning is not available for Pre-K students.


***Traditional School***

Masks are optional for both students and personnel. Parents or Guardians must provide a mask for students who wish to wear one throughout the day.

Temperatures will be taken for all students, staff, parents and guardians each morning upon arriving at the campus. Anyone with a temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher will not be permitted to stay at school. 

Hand sanitizer will be available to all children and adults before entering the school buildings.

Fannin County, School System, Board of Education, Reopening, First Day, School Year, 2020, 2021, 2020-21, Covid-19, Coronavirus, Department of Education, Georgia, Online Learning, Traditional, Superintendent, Michael Gwatney, Sarah Rigdon, Masks, Safety

Parents, Guardians, and Staff completed a survey on key issues. This helped shape the district’s plan to reopen.

Elementary teachers will move the students instead of students changing classes. Middle and High School students will not be allowed to congregate in hallways. When and where possible class changes for Middle and High School students will be staggered or hallway traffic patterns will be addressed to prevent overcrowding.

When possible students will be assigned seats and will keep the same seat during the instructional class period.

Each school will “develop school level procedures” to limit the number of students in the cafeteria. This may include “grab and go” where students will pick up meals and eat in a classroom or designated area.

The final plan for buses has not been finalized. However, hand sanitizer will be available for anyone upon boarding a bus. Buses will be sanitized daily and ventilated to the extent feasible when in route.

Parents and guardians will be notified of any adjustments to bus routes or pick up times before the first day of school. Requirement to wear a mask while on a bus has not been decided, but parents and guardians will be notified of this decision as well.

Parents and guardians will be allowed to walk their child to class during the first few days of school but must wear a mask.  Schools will determine when parents and guardians will no longer have access beyond the main entrance.  

FCSS states “We want to keep the lines of communication strong, but we need to limit the number of people flowing into and out of the buildings each day.”


***If Schools Close Again***

Those students enrolled in Online Learning would continue the course that they are taking with no change. Students of the traditional classroom setting would switch to online learning but follow a model similar to that that was implemented in March 2020.


The FCSS states of the opening plan that “plans may change based on future orders from the Governor, the Department of Community Health, or the Department of Education”.

“Our desire is always to operate a traditional school with face to face,” Rigdon said of the hope for all students eventually to return to a traditional setting, “We believe our instruction is best at that level.”


Natalie Kissel

Rally for equality held in downtown Blue Ridge

Community, Downtown Blue Ridge, News
Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Silent Rally for Respect, Peace, and an Equitable Future for All, Jessica Abernathy, Larry Henderson, Protests, Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, Back the Blue, Change, Equality

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Demonstrations are continuing to be held across the nation, by people wanting their voices to be heard on issues of equality. Organizers in Blue Ridge took a different approach as they hoped to be heard through the silence of art.

A fence was set up in the Blue Ridge City Park and adorned with original art pieces expressing discouragement about unequal treatment of individuals in our society and hope for unity to prevail. The Silent Rally for Respect, Peace, and an Equitable Future for All was the brainchild of Fannin County native Jessica Abernathy.

Abernathy had recently attended the rally that took place in Ellijay, Ga. and got inspiration for Blue Ridge’s event when she realized, “I wasn’t alone”. Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Silent Rally for Respect, Peace, and an Equitable Future for All, Jessica Abernathy, Larry Henderson, Protests, Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, Back the Blue, Change, Equality

Having friends in a variety of communities, Abernathy was compelled to bring her message and the message of many others to Blue Ridge. 

“Being that we have a big art community here, this seemed like the best way to do it,” Abernathy spoke of the unique approach to the Blue Ridge rally and pointed out that this form of expression alleviates the concerns surrounding the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic allowing people to social distance.

Also in place, was an area for visitors to write their thoughts on the current events that are taking place in our nation and around the world. Everyone was invited to share their opinions via pen and paper. These messages will be sealed in a time capsule until 2030.

According to Abernathy, local historian Kathy Thompson came up with the idea for the time capsule and will be overseeing its placement, to be determined, until 2030: “It’s to seal this moment in time. It seems like a very impactful moment.”

Some showed up to support differing views than those portrayed on the rally’s art wall.

Citizen, Larry Henderson, sat nearby with signs of his own wanting to show his support for two groups, one that he feels is being unjustly criticized, the other he feels is being overlooked all together.

“I try to show my support every day. I’m a retired police officer and the police departments are getting a really bad wrap right now,” Henderson said while sitting by his Back the Blue sign, “I agree there are some bad police officers, but there’s a whole lot of good ones. We shouldn’t condemn an entire profession based on a couple of bad people.” 

Henderson also displayed a sign reading “Unborn Lives Matter” and this is a belief that he holds very dear.Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Silent Rally for Respect, Peace, and an Equitable Future for All, Jessica Abernathy, Larry Henderson, Protests, Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, Back the Blue, Change, Equality

“Everybody’s been talking about Black Lives Matter. Yes they do. They certainly do. Brown lives matter, White lives matter, Asian lives matter, all lives matter,” Henderson spoke on the issue that he says he prays about a lot, “But what’s more important to me, and there’s not much I can do but be vocal about it, is that unborn lives matter.” 

Henderson says that he wasn’t present to counter protest but rather to show support of issues meaningful to him: “I am here as a citizen enjoying a day in the park, drinking my water and I’ve got a couple of signs saying how I feel.” 

Abernathy, the event’s organizer said that Henderson and others “not necessarily sharing her views” had been respectful of her demonstration and that she had met no real opposition from the community while organizing and holding the event.

“Love your neighbor,” Abernathy shared the message that she hopes the event will bring awareness to, “Be empathetic to the situation at hand. We just want peace for everybody. We don’t want anyone to have to be afraid.” 


Natalie Kissel

Runoff : Helton and Hensley answer questions relating to Fannin County

Election 2020, News, Politics
Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Election, Runoff, August, Stan Helton, Jamie Hensley, Key Issues, Board of Registration and Elections, Early Voting, Republican

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The August 11, 2020 runoff is fast approaching and only one seat in Fannin County will be seen on the ballot. That seat is for Fannin County Commission Chairman. Incumbent Stan Helton faces Challenger Jamie Hensley for the Republican nomination.

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With no Democratic nomination for the seat, the winner of the August runoff will be the presumed winner of Fannin County’s next Chairman.

FYN sent several questions to both Incumbent Helton and Challenger Hensley, so that voters will know where the two candidates stand on key topics in Fannin County.


SPLOST and tax collections in general are expected to take a hit due to statewide business closures. How do you plan to navigate the areas impacted by less revenue?

HeltonCounty revenues and SPLOST were down in the latter part of March and April. However, YTD our TOTAL County revenues are down only 2% and LOST & SPLOST collections are actually slightly ahead. We have put a strong emphasis on watching our costs and thru May – the County is actually 8% under budget on expenditures. We are already addressing potential shortfalls by delaying any Capital projects that will not hamper essential services. We also plan to scale back paving this year to about 50% from our previous rate which will keep the Roads and Bridges expenditures to a minimum. That will help protect our SPLOST fund balance.

Hensley –  As it stands now there will be State funding cuts that will affect Fannin County, but locally I would need to see the final numbers to make decisions on whether or not steps need to be taken to balance any budget issues. Fannin County has shown to be resilient in the past and right now the economy in our area is demonstrating that resilience again.


Recently the City of Blue Ridge took steps toward annexation of county territory. Would you be for the city expanding its limits? 

HeltonThe County has not received any official documents from the City of Blue Ridge and the article in the County news organ is all I can respond to. It appears that the primary impact would be to extend City liquor laws into the County without an approved referendum by the voters. I am not in favor of excluding the voters on this important issue and oppose Annexation without a thorough and proper process.

Hensley – At this time, I would not be for the City of Blue Ridge annexing portions of the county. There needs to be planned growth in Fannin County and there needs to be a focus on infrastructure and public services being able to handle the change and growth. I worry that annexation and the large developments that were proposed could negatively impact residents. For example, with property value and taxes. There needs to be citizen input on these major decisions in the county.


Many states and cities are increasing property taxes to make up for lost revenue. Would you be for increasing the millage rate to make up for this lost revenue? If not, how would you manage oversight on property values to ensure that inflation does not occur?

HeltonRaising Millage rates and increasing property taxes is a last resort. With the cooperation of the Chamber , the BOC has voted to raise the Hotel/Motel tax from 5% to 6% which is paid by tourists. Also, continuing to challenge other County offices to find budget savings is another alternative to raising the Millage rate. The Tax Assessors Board and office is responsible for managing the property valuation in Fannin County, not the Board of Commissioners. The continued influx of people that move into Fannin County buying property and building homes will naturally increase values for all property owners.

Hensley – My goal is to keep Fannin County’s Millage rate the lowest in the State of Georgia. That is something that we have been proud of for many years and I would like to continue to maintain this status. Being proactive by looking at the overall county budget and finding ways to save taxpayers’ money within our operations is the action I would take before considering raising the Millage rate.


The purchase of the Whitepath property has been divisive in the community. Do you feel it was a good purchase and how would you move forward with the project?

Helton – It was a GREAT investment for Fannin County and was MANDATED by the voters on the 2016 SPLOST referendum. $3,150,000 was allocated for this goal and we have used $1,300,000 cash out of that fund balance to make this purchase ( which was voted on in an open meeting back in May 2019 ). There is $1,850,000 SPLOST available to repurpose that building and possibly move the library over and double their space from the current crowded location in the Courthouse. This is a great value for the County and is less expensive than building a new Administration Building.  The BOC has simply followed through with what the voters already approved in November 2016- – – namely, move the administrative functions out of the crowded Courthouse to improve parking and citizen access. There should be no controversy in doing what the people voted on and mandated.

Hensley – I understand the need for residents to have easier access to Fannin County public services. The current location of the courthouse has issues like parking that poses a problem for many. I do have questions on whether the Whitepath building is the best option to relocate these services. I understand that the building was purchased with SPLOST funds for this specific reason, but would like to propose another option, if possible, to explore. I would like to see the building used to bring industry and jobs back to the county. With the grant that the library received, I would like to look into a stand alone library. Space in the courthouse, as well as parking, would be freed up just by moving the library.


Are there any areas of our local government that you feel need to be looked into and possibly reformed? How would you go about making changes?

Helton – The voters have a chance for reform every four years – – – – it’s called an election and candidates should present their ideas for change or reform to the citizens before the election. Voters can then make their choice on what needs changing.  I think Fannin County works pretty well and I don’t support expanding the BOC members or making a change to our type of local government.

Hensley – There are departments within our local government, like any government, that could improve. A way to get these improvements would be to stop using Fannin County as a training facility for workers. When we find quality workers we need to offer competitive wages and benefits to keep these workers here. I would look to make all departments self sufficient by hiring and retaining quality employees.


There is concern of a second wave of Covid-19 hitting in the Fall. What steps would you take for public safety if this were to happen? How do you feel about the county’s response to the first wave in March?

Helton – There have been lessons learned from the Federal Government to the State of Georgia on down to the local level in dealing with this unforeseen pandemic. Fannin County initiated our Health Emergency Declaration Order nine days before the Governor implemented his HEDO. I feel our response was timely and effective in slowing down the COVID – 19 spread by reducing the influx of tourists into Fannin from highly infected areas outside the County. If a second wave hits again the Governor would issue orders that would reimplement his previous HEDO (supercedes County orders ) and we would by law fall under the State decree.

Hensley – Fannin County handled the first wave of Covid-19 very well considering the information that was presented to us at the time. This is completely new territory for everyone. The decisions made during March laid the groundwork for how to tackle similar situations in the future. If there were further outbreaks causing a need for action, I would use the guidelines and recommendations given by the State and the CDC, along with common sense, to form a plan of action for our county.


What personal qualities do you feel sets you apart from your opponent? Why do you feel like you are the better person for the job?

HeltonI have a BBA Degree from the University of Georgia and thirty five years running large business during my Oil Industry career. I’m an ACCG Certified County Commissioner and have the experience to run a $28.5 million dollar County budget. I’m willing to make tough decisions that benefit the citizens and not special interests that are moving here or are already part of the establishment. I am the only candidate that has NOT accepted any donations , and not compromised by nepotism or favoritism.

Hensley – I have served the public for over 30 years operating a business. I am a citizen of Fannin County like everyone else. Over the years I have listened to the good and I have listened to the bad, and as Chairman, I will continue to listen and to get out and interact with residents. I want to unite and to move forward on common ground and I will do this by listening to and working with the people. I know that not every decision can make everyone happy, but I will always do my best to make the right decision.


***NOTE regarding the upcoming runoff***

Early voting will begin July 20th and end on August 7th

Hours : 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday

Location: Fannin County Board of Registration and Elections, 400 West Main St., Suite 301.

The Board of Registration and Elections will be practicing social distancing, have a sanitizing table set up and will also be sanitizing the office and voting equipment throughout the day.

 All Precincts will be open on August 11, 2020 7:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. Social distancing and sanitizing will be observed in all Precincts.

 If you voted in the June 9, 2020 General Primary, you must vote the same ballot style you selected then, with the exception of Nonpartisan. Nonpartisan will be allowed to select either party’s ballot style.

If you did not vote in the June 9, 2020 General Primary then either ballot style can be chosen.

 The Board of Registration and Elections are accepting ballot applications, as well as poll worker applications . If anyone has any questions please call 706-632-7740.


Natalie Kissel

Independence Day Celebrations in Fannin County

Community, Festivals, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – While the continued concern surrounding Covid-19 has changed some of the traditions of Fannin County’s Annual Independence Day celebration, the show must go on.

Parades that usually flow through the streets of downtown Blue Ridge will be cancelled this July 4th, but the fireworks extravaganza in both Blue Ridge and McCaysville are set to take place.


July 3rd

The Blue Ridge Scenic Railway will be open and operating again in time for this holiday weekend. The Scenic Railway is offering the Firecracker Special train. 

According to the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce website, the train will depart downtown Blue Ridge at 7:00 p.m. and make its way to McCaysville. Passengers can enjoy the great Copper Basin Fireworks display and return to Blue Ridge by 11:00 p.m.

Visitors to the twin cities of McCaysville, Ga. and Copperhill, Tn. are invited to view the fireworks display that is set to begin shortly before nightfall. City officials in McCaysville have promised that this year’s show will be “bigger than ever”.

Downtown activities will be set up in McCaysville and Copperhill, including lots of vendors for food and things to do with the kids until the fireworks start. 


July 4th

The Lake Blue Ridge Civic Association will host its annual Lake Blue Ridge Fireworks. The fireworks are scheduled to begin at dusk. Suggested viewing points for this year’s display are, Morganton Point Recreation Area, from a boat in Lake Blue Ridge near the Lake Blue Ridge Dam, Lake Blue Ridge Dam as well as adjacent area by the “tower in the lake”, and the Lake Blue Ridge Marina. 

While in town for the weekend be sure to check out the Blue Ridge Mountain Arts Association (BRMAA) Smithsonian Institution Exhibit, Crossroads: Change in Rural America. This special exhibition runs through July 17.

Crossroads uses photos, objects, film, audio, and interactive technology to explore broader themes of identity, land, community, persistence, and response to change, as well as the role our rural communities have played in shaping the American cultural landscape. Crossroads encourages conversations about local history, explores the pleasures and challenges of living rural, examines how change has made an impact on our communities, and prompts discussion of goals for the future.”

You can find Independence Day celebrations in neighboring counties by clicking here : FYN Georgia News


Featured Image courtesy of Fannin County Chamber of Commerce


Natalie Kissel

Rumors of Rebel name change untrue

Community, News, Rebel's Corner

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Rumors of a Rebels name change have taken social media by storm and those involved in the school system say that right now, it is nothing more than rumors.

With the current political climate, the Fannin County Rebels have once again been thrust into the community spotlight due to the school’s mascot.

Some on Facebook vow that the name has already been secretly changed to the Fannin County Raiders and that new uniforms have been the works, while others are simply joining the debate on whether there should be a change at all.

Head coach of the Gilmer County Bobcats, Kevin Saunders, chimed in via Twitter. 

While not mentioning the rival Fannin Rebels specifically, Saunders did share in part: “Once again I hope schools decide to remove very explicit racial traditions. High school and Colleges, examples would be Dixie, Nickname Rebel or reb and the Confederate Flag. Some schools are but there is no need for this to be carrying on in this day and time”.

Fannin County school officials say that there have been no meetings for the purpose of changing the school’s mascot.

“I am a board member and there have been no meetings concerning a name change,” Fannin County School Board Member Mike Cole posted to Facebook, adding, “All you are seeing is what we called “rumor control” in the Marine Corps. None of this is factual.”

Cole also pointed out that a name change usually goes through the School Governance Team (SGT) and not the board.

Assistant Superintendent Robert Ensley spoke with FYN and confirmed Cole’s remarks. Like Cole, Ensley said that there have been no meetings regarding the Rebel name. Ensley also stated that a change in name would need to be addressed to the high school SGT.

Ensley stated that in order for there to be a change to the mascot it must first be brought before the SGT and then options would be given to be voted on. Student, faculty, and guardian input would all be considered if such a change were requested.

“There have been no agenda items to date for either the board or the SGT that have mentioned a change in the name,” Ensley said adding that all meetings are public and agendas are available to the public.

The next SGT meeting will take place on Wednesday, July 15 at 4:15 p.m. in the high school cafeteria. Those who are in favor of or opposed to a change in the Rebel mascot are encouraged to contact the SGT.


Natalie Kissel

BOE looks to reopen schools in August

Board of Education, News, Rebel's Corner

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Fannin County School System (FCSS) is moving forward with plans to reopen the district in August.

“Our goal remains to have school in August,” FCSS Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney spoke at the recent Board of Education meeting, adding, “Now, it’s impossible to say right now exactly how school will look in August, as so much will depend on the health of our community at that time.”

Gwatney, along with district personnel and the Board of Education, are looking to find a balance for the upcoming year, weighing both the needs of the students and the needs of the community.

The Georgia Department of Education released guidelines on Monday, June 1, 2020 for districts moving forward. This advisement breaks up reopening recommendations into three categories:

  • Low/No Spread (of Covid-19)
  • Minimal/Moderate Spread
  • Substantial Spread

Each category has specific guidelines and recommendations for operating a school system based on the health of the community, and can range from traditional operation (in person) to hybrid operation (alternating schedules) to distance/remote learning.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, School, 2020, 2021, Covid-19, Superintendent, Michael Gwatney, Board of Education, Lewis Deweese, Sarah Rigdon, Heather Finley, Planning, Georgia Department of Education, Survey

The beginning guidelines from the GaDOE defining the categories to consider when reopening schools.

You can read the guidelines released by the Georgia Department of Education by clicking here : Georgia’s K-12 Restart and Recovery

“The great thing that I love about the plan is that it is actually giving communities back control of how their schools function,” FCSS Assistant Superintendent Sarah Rigdon said of the new recommendations.

While the district is preparing and hopeful to have children back in the classroom this fall, they are also preparing for a worst case scenario, where distance/remote learning is the only option once again.

FCSS Director of Instructional Technology, Heather Finley, gave the public a brief overview of how the statewide closure was handled in March of this year. 

During the past nine weeks, 68,000 meals were still served to students, over 700 Google Classrooms were created, approximately 900 virtual meetings and classrooms were attended, WiFi Hotspots were provided to families throughout the county, and those with special needs were still provided services.

“If we can do this in 3 days,” Finely said of the district’s quick response to the pandemic crisis in March, “we can plan for August and figure it out.”

The school system is sending out a survey to parents, guardians, facility, and staff regarding their feelings on moving forward with the 2020-2021 school year. This survey will be based on the low to moderate guidelines recommended by the State.

“This has been a very polarizing issue, and so it should be interesting once we get some of this data back to how the community feels,” Rigdon said of the survey.

The hope of conducting the survey is to get genuine feedback from those with an invested interest in the operations of the school district on a variety of topics that will need to be addressed before moving forward.

An example of such a topic was given as to whether or not children should be required to wear masks in school. 

The school system has also been seeking guidance from a wide variety of professionals in the medical, legal, economic and emergency management fields. 

Rigdon will share the findings from the survey at the July Board of Education meeting so that plans can be made for the reopening of Fannin County schools in August.

“We are excited that we are going to be able to go back to local control. It’s our kids and our community,” Rigdon stated and added, “Educators have missed their kids.”

Board member Lewis Deweese shared his feelings on how every obstacle has been met so far by the Fannin County School System: “The demonstration of love and the compassion that our teachers have for students, it goes above and beyond the call of duty by far.”


Natalie Kissel

The Maze of Answers That Answer Nothing : City of Blue Ridge

Citizens Speak, Downtown Blue Ridge, Opinion

Remember the days of old when you went to the Fair and visited the House of Mirrors.  You made your way through the maze looking at the confusing, funny and often times distorted reflections.  It was something fun, amusing and sometimes challenging to go through that maze.  Yet, why are those childhood memories suddenly replaced with the challenge of the maze citizens find themselves in while trying to discover answers to questions from government.

I recently attended the City of Blue Ridge’s Town Hall on Annexation.  I was called to the podium and quickly voiced my concerns to the Council as you only have two minutes.  After I went through the questions, I was told to leave a copy and they would respond.  A week later that response arrived.

My first question was why are developers ‘driving the bus’ with annexation?   I’m not certain how the response was even relevant to the question, but it basically said the expansion of new business and developments in the designated area would create the need for city services. OK, but what I asked was why are developers leading all these efforts.

One developer initiated the discussion on annexation in 2017 and later brought in a few others who wanted it. Four developers discussed their plans at the City Council Meeting on May 19.  Now the City has confirmed there are 10 interested in annexation.  Since we now know what the developers want, it would be nice if the City would share what their vision is for Blue Ridge.

We need to know, with certainty, that the City has development plans, zoning and land use protocols in place.  What is even more important is those plans should have been developed with input from the public and be accessible for public review.

The City is embarking on an attempt to secure rights to portions of two highly trafficked roadways, one of which is scheduled for a significant expansion, but what are their plans for the area?  If the first developer who spoke at the May 19 Council meeting is any indication — hold on — because their plans look more in line with Gwinnett County than Fannin.

My next question focused on the public and what they wanted for their community.  I was told that the majority of letters and conversations the City received had supported annexation.  The majority of letters?  Where are those letters?  Better yet, if there was such overwhelming support, why would three Council members suggest they needed to get input from the public and County Commissioners and ask to schedule the Town Hall?

One Council member told me it was uncertain how they could move forward when the majority who spoke opposed the annexation.  It is disappointing the Council did not include any information concerning annexation at its most recent meeting (June 9).  From what I’m told from the County ‘nothing more has transpired’ with regard to meeting with the Commissioners.  We also know a letter was sent to Speaker Ralston asking him to hold off on the Annexation Resolution unless the City advised otherwise.  So what is the status of the annexation and why is the Council now silent?

Probably the key question in everyone’s mind is what is the total cost for the annexation.  While this question has been asked numerous times and the response varies only a little, it remains vague and unknown.  Here are the responses I’ve received so far:

— We’re only annexing the road and right of way – there is no cost

— Some things are paid by GDOT at no cost

— Minimal costs for legal fees and an ad for the newspaper

— The cost is minimal compared to the revenue that would be generated

We still have no clear understanding of what the cost will be and continue to be told there is no cost and they will apply for a grant.

Impact studies are important for any city considering a change in zoning or an annexation.  What will the impact be on existing infrastructure? How many car trips in and out of these large developments will impact existing roads and neighborhoods?  Has the City analyzed what spare capacities their systems have and when they will need to be increased?  Are there any backlogs in maintenance to existing systems and if so what is the financial burden of those backlogs?  What is the impact to a current homeowner who could very well see their taxes increase?  Noise impact?  Quality of life impact?  The list goes on.

No one knows, but the response said that GDOT makes the decisions for the roads, traffic lights, access lanes, etc.  Yes, GDOT is responsible for the road, but they are not responsible for zoning, land use, what current systems can handle, current debt load and an understanding of what the citizens want their community to look like.  This, again, is where developers are leading the parade and the City has willingly joined it.

I asked about sewer treatment because this falls in the category of impact when looking at infrastructure.  I’ve heard there are some concerns with the facility.  I’ll quote the response:

“The 22 year old sewer plant has been experiencing problems with repair cost.  There is a need to comply with NEW EPD regulations, temperature control, belt press, dehydrator and various other issues to keep the plant operating efficiently.  A Grant/Loan was applied for to correct these issues in the amount of $5M and has been awarded in the past few weeks.  A portion of these upgrades is funded by a Loan requiring a payment to be offset by current customer rate increases or by adding NEW customers.”

My question to citizens is, did you know the City made a commitment to a loan that will come from either current customer rate increases or adding new customers?

With the first developer stating his is a twenty-year plan, at what point will they be adding new customers to share the load?  Does the developer pay a connection fee and then the new home owner assume the role of ‘new customer’?  What happens if something goes wrong with the development and the City’s outlay is not matched and exceeded by that magical anticipated revenue?  Based on their response – customer rate increases.

The financial part remains a ‘smoke and mirrors’ situation.  For as many times as citizens have asked what is the cost, what is the financial impact, the response remains “there is no financial burden to taxpayers”.  The City states “The proposed annexation would increase sales tax dollars for the City and County and NEW sewer revenue for the City.”  I have yet to figure out how those sewer lines will suddenly appear in the dirt and who will pay for them to be placed there.

There is one question that haunts me trying to get through this maze – What if?  What if these developments are not quite as successful as they are being marketed?  Any challenge to the economy or the housing market will greatly impact the success or failure of development plans.  Blue Ridge markets itself as a place to slow down and relax.  What happens when you build high density, new urbanist developments?  Will tourists be drawn to the same crowded developments and traffic they have where they live now and want to escape from?  I don’t think so.

An additional impact is what happens when a high-price development is built in close proximity to average priced homes for the general population.  When I asked if people would be able to afford their taxes due to the impact of high-priced developments nearby and increases in assessments, the response was “the impact is unknown at this time.”

Annexation is often thought of as a quick fix to bring in revenue without really doing all the math.  I’m not convinced the math has been done.  I also remain steadfast in my concerns for how these decisions will impact taxpayers.  The fact most of these discussions were done without any public knowledge sends a clear message and one of concern.  Why would a City not want public input and support so the project is a win for everyone.

My last question asked what possible impact could the thoughts of the citizens have on the Council when most had already expressed their strong support for this annexation in the May 19 meeting.  The project manager encouraged me to reach out to the Council members to determine their position on annexation.  He did say he supported the annexation based on economic progress and job creation.  He also said the City has zoning and any development would have to adhere to those guidelines.  It should be noted that the developer who first sought this annexation chairs the Planning Commission and also sits on the Zoning Board of Appeals.  Since I have found no published minutes from either of those Boards, I can only wonder if he was or will be involved in anything regarding the review of and decision making with this annexation.  Speculation, of course, but a real concern.

The closing comment from the project manager was “It is imperative that the growth along those highways have regulations to protect adjoining neighbors and maintain the beauty of our community.” Why was that not the focus and commitment spoken by every Council member and the Mayor?  It should have been the first comment made.  It should make me feel more comfortable, but a few questions earlier he said “the impact (on surrounding neighborhoods) is unknown at this time”.

The fact that impact is unknown is what just turned this maze into a house without an exit, when/if they move forward with annexation, there will be no way to escape whatever consequences may result.  Annexation is a critical decision and one that should not be made hastily.  I certainly hope the City will step back, get the public involved in developing a future plan, include the County and work together for a better tomorrow.

I want to close by saying I know our elected officials have an enormous responsibility, but I also strongly believe in public input.  I don’t want to see a community lost to the direction of developers while the public is pushed to the sidelines.  I hope our elected realize there are citizens who are knowledgeable and they should not be dismissed.  If they are so quick to buy into a developer’s pie-in-the-sky projected revenues, then why not give equal time and respect to the average citizen.

Donna Thompson

Blue Ridge, GA

A Message from Bill Simonds – What do the other candidates really offer?

Election 2020, News
Bill Simonds

Commissioners reaffirm position on city annexation

Board of Commissioners, City Council, News

FANNIN COUNTY, Ga – In  March 2020, Fannin County Commissioners issued a letter of opposition regarding the city of Blue Ridge’s proposed annexation. Three months later, little has changed.

At the end of the June 1 called meeting, Post Two Commissioner Glenn Patterson took a moment to discuss the highly contested topic. He asked people to keep an open mind, but at this time, he opposes the measure.

Patterson added that he spoke with several members of the community, including a few who support it. However, most people were against the annexation of Hwy 5 and Hwy 515.

“I just feel like it wouldn’t be the right thing,” said Patterson. “I don’t see in looking at it that it would be the right thing for the county to do so.”

Post One Earl Johnson affirmed that it’s too early to even form a complete opinion either for or against. The commissioners haven’t received an annexation proposal from the city.

“I think until we see anything on paper, or in black and white, it’s going to hard for any of us to come to a conclusion on anything. I think that cart’s still way before the horse in my opinion,” stated Johnson.

Chairman Stan Helton had no comment on this issue.

At the May 26 commission meeting, Fannin resident Donna Thompson addressed the board about annexation. She supported the commissioners’ decision to oppose it.

“We saw firsthand how uncontrolled growth can destroy a community in a very short period of time,” explained Thompson. “When you talk about two developments that are highly dense…how is that going to be handled in terms of transportation, traffic control, accident response, general safety monitoring, etc? These things do impact the county.”

Thompson wasn’t against people earning a living, but residential developers focused on upscale housing, then some residents will be left out of the picture. She requested that the county and city consider the residents of Blue Ridge before making a decision based on furthering the tourism industry.

Blue Ridge City Council held a public town hall on Monday, June 1 at 5 p.m. The annexation currently sits in the hopper at the General Assembly for representatives and senators to vote on. If the city wants to rescind the measure, they must vote again and inform Speaker of the House David Ralston and Senator Steve Gooch.

The city chose the local act of General Assembly process for this proposed annexation. According to the Georgia Municipal Association, the procedure must follow these steps:

“In addition to annexation by home rule, the Georgia General Assembly may change a municipality’s boundaries and annex property into the municipal limits by enacting local legislation. Where more than 50% of an area proposed for annexation by local act is “used for residential purposes” and the number of residents to be annexed exceeds 3% of the city’s current population or 500 people, whichever is less, a referendum on annexation must be held in the area to be annexed. “Used for residential purposes” means that the property is a lot or tract five acres or less in size on which is constructed a habitable dwelling unit (O.C.G.A. § 36-36-16).

Land can also be deannexed from a city by the legislature. Note that the introduction of a local act of the General Assembly must be preceded by notice to the municipality affected and advertisement in the newspaper (O.C.G.A. § 28-1-4).”

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