City attorney decision discussed by Whitener, Thomas-Haight

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Following the recent hiring of new Blue Ridge city attorney, James A. Balli, at the Jan. 9 city council meeting, Mayor Donna Whitener and Councilwoman Rhonda Thomas-Haight spoke with FetchYourNews about some of the details regarding the city’s decision to replace former city attorney David Syfan with Balli.

Providing specific reasons for replacing Syfan, both Whitener and Thomas-Haight expressed the need for a change in representation.  “(Syfan’s) been with the city for 20 years,” Thomas-Haight stated. “It’s time for a change. Of course, every four years, we appoint that position, and (with) the new council, we just felt like it was time for a change.”

“As I’ve mentioned several times, I felt like (Syfan) didn’t represent the entire group (of the mayor and council members),” Whitener added. “I want a city attorney that works for all six of us and for the city and the citizens.”

The mayor went on to clarify that Balli has not represented any of the city council members or herself previously. She said, “Of course, that became a little bit of an issue … (The new council) felt like they wanted somebody that represented all of us on an equal playing field.”

Mayor Donna Whitener, left, City Attorney James Balli and Councilwoman Rhonda Thomas-Haight attend the Jan. 9 Blue Ridge City Council meeting.

During the city council meeting, in which Balli was hired, Whitener explained that four candidates, in addition to Syfan, applied for the position of city attorney. Balli was inevitably hired at a reduced rate of $175 per hour with a rate of $200 per hour for time spent representing the city in court. Among the other attorneys who applied for the position were local attorneys Lynn Doss and Cortney Stuart, whose clients include Fannin County and city of McCaysville, respectively, and Atlanta attorney Kelly Michael Hundley, who currently represents the city of Hiram, Georgia, according to information obtained from the city of Blue Ridge.

Doss, who, according to Whitener and Thomas-Haight, withdrew her application from consideration prior to the council meeting, had offered her services to the city at the per-hour rate of $175. Stuart offered a rate of $150 per hour with a $100 monthly retainer fee. Hundley proposed a rate of $150 per hour with a $175 per hour rate for legal proceeding representation.

Though Syfan’s previous per-hour rate of $95 was considerably lower than that of Balli’s current rate, Thomas-Haight explained, “I know sometimes it appeared, in my opinion, as if projects seemed to take a long time.”

In regard to the potential hiring of Stuart, Whitener explained that the Georgia Municipal Association, which provides legislative advocacy and consulting services to member cities, had advised the city against such a relationship citing a potential representational conflict of interest.

The mayor further explained that the proper channels of advertisement for the position were utilized through publication in the legal organ. Whitener also stated that she, as well as all incoming city council members except Harold Herndon, had a chance to meet with Balli individually ahead of the meeting in order to make a determination to hire Balli. Whitener stated Herndon was unable to meet with Balli during any of the attorney’s trips to Blue Ridge due to illness.

“I felt good about (meeting with Balli) because he took the time to reach out to us and wanted to meet us and make sure we all could mesh together if we did choose his firm,” Thomas-Haight said.

“Mr. Balli seems to be a good fit for our city,” Thomas-Haight continued. “He is anxious to work with us, and we seem to all be on the same page with how we want to move forward with the city. He wants to be involved in our council meetings and that was a definite plus because Mr. Syfan, even though the charter states that the (city) attorney shall attend the meetings, he had only been to – to my recollection – five (meetings) in eight years.”

Whitener stated Balli has municipal experience and familiarity with water management. According to Balli’s submitted resume to the city, he currently serves as a board member on the Cobb-Marietta Water Authority.

“Becky (Harkins, director of Blue Ridge Water and Utilities department) was extremely impressed because of his water knowledge, and we’re really working on our policies and procedures, so she felt like he would be very beneficial to us in getting those standards to where they need to be,” Mayor Whitener continued.

So who is James A. Balli?

According to Balli’s resume, he received a B.S. in political science from Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, Georgia, in 1996 and later received his Juris Doctorate from the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University in 1999. Also in 1999, Balli was admitted to the State Bar of Georgia and in 2000 was admitted to the State Bar of Alabama.

Balli served in the United States Air Force Reserve from 1992 to 2000 at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama.

Balli currently serves as commissioner on the seven-member Judicial Qualifications Commission of Georgia, which investigates allegations of judicial misconduct of all judges in the state of Georgia. He also currently serves as a board member of the Kennesaw State University Masters of Public Administration Advisory Board where he provides advice and direction to masters’ program students and faculty. Balli has been admitted to practice before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals, the Georgia Court of Appeals, the Alabama Supreme Court, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals, the Middle Districts of Georgia and Alabama, and the Northern District of Georgia.

Among his recent experience, Balli represented the Atlanta Braves during the organization’s recent move from Fulton County to Cobb County, and his other recent clients have included (David) Ralston for Representative, Inc., BrandsMart USA, and the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners.

Balli is a partner at the Marietta law firm Sams, Larkin, Huff & Balli, LLP, which has represented both county governments on related development issues and commercial and private interests on a variety of issues involving elected officials from state, county and municipal governments.

Commenting on his new position with the city, Balli stated, “I am honored to have the opportunity to serve the citizens of Blue Ridge and to work with the mayor and city council as they work to serve the citizens as well. I think Blue Ridge is the best small town in the state of Georgia, and I am excited to be a part of it moving forward.”

Continue to follow FetchYourNews as we plan to produce a six-month financial comparison of the previous city attorney fees to that of the current city attorney in mid-July.

 

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

Author

Jason Beck

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

Hundreds gather for Fannin County Senior Homestead Exemption town hall

Politics

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The crowd spilled into the hall outside the Jury Assembly Room of the Fannin County Courthouse for a town hall meeting addressing a potential Homestead Property Tax Exemption for seniors Thursday, Nov. 16, as hundreds attended, mostly to oppose the exemption.

The change would exempt Fannin property owners 65 and older from paying the school property tax.

The meeting began with brief addresses from Georgia House Speaker and Fannin County resident David Ralston and Georgia State Senator Steve Gooch who were present to hear arguments for and against the exemption.

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston attended a town hall meeting Thursday night over a potential school tax exemption for Fannin seniors.

Ralston explained the exemption would have to pass with a two-thirds majority vote in both the Georgia House of Representatives and State Senate before being placed on the ballot for the 2018 Fannin County General Election. The speaker added neither he nor Senator Gooch had come to a position yet concerning the potential change for Fannin taxpayers.

“It’s a big issue,” Ralston said at the town hall, “and big issues have big consequences. Consequences for people that are on fixed incomes having to pay property taxes that are seniors and big consequences for our public schools here in the county.”

Senator Gooch told of his experience with the exemption during his tenure as Sole Commissioner of Lumpkin County. “I warned people at the time that there were good and bad consequences to legislation like that, and I hope whatever happens here in Fannin County, people will get the facts before they make their decisions on whether they support something or not support something.”

Gooch stated he was not in favor of property taxes and would like to see a shift to a consumption tax to allow property tax relief for all taxpayers. The senator also stated, “Every time you create an exemption for any kind of a tax, you’re shifting the burden to everyone else that’s not getting these exemptions.”

State Senator Steve Gooch heard arguments for and against a potential senior school tax exemption Thursday night.

Following Gooch was Blake Doss, policy analyst for the Georgia House Budget and Research office. Doss gave a short presentation and told that Fannin has a population of 6,523 age 65 and older, which accounts for approximately 26 percent of the county’s total population of 24,985. Doss also said the local school system received $18,501,250 (55 percent) of its 2016-17 revenue from property taxes while the remainder derived from state and federal funding.

Doss estimated a senior tax exemption would shift the burden to 40 to 45 percent of the county population. Later, Doss also said 33 to 35 percent of the county’s population would fall under the exemption eligibility in the next few years. He further stated the county currently has two tax exemptions in place available for seniors. One such exemption, Doss said, gives taxpayers 62 and older an up to $30,000 exemption of their 40 percent assessed property if they meet income qualifications. Another, again based on income qualifications, provides a property valuation freeze for taxpayers 70 and older.

The overwhelming majority of citizens in attendance opposed the issue as evidenced by wearing bright orange stickers reading “Support Education.”

Among those, Rita VanOrsdal stated, “Without adequate funding, schools will send (students) out less prepared … I believe that cutting my age group’s taxes will do nothing but denigrate the quality of education of those coming after.”

Mike Queen, former Fannin School Board chairman, said he understood both arguments concerning the issue but added the exemption would put a burden on younger taxpayers and families. “I pay a hefty tax … Every dollar I spend on education is an investment in the future of this county,” Queen said.

Current Fannin School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney informed the audience Fannin County spends more per capita on students -$10,923.20 per student – than the state average – $9,020.46 – despite having the sixth lowest school millage rate in the state (11.23 mills). According to Gwatney, the state average for school millage rates is 16.36 mills. Gwatney estimates Fannin County Schools would lose $1.4 million dollars annually if the exemption is passed.

“Education is an investment, and it’s a good investment,” Gwatney said.

Gwatney also alluded to the struggles Gilmer County Schools have had since that county instituted a similar exemption in recent years. “History has a tendency to repeat itself. The showing in this room tonight does not want to repeat the history of Gilmer County,” Gwatney said.

Chief Executive Officer of Fannin Regional Hospital David Sanders also opposed the exemption and explained that the exemption would affect more than just the school system. Sanders stated during his seven years as CEO of the hospital he has recruited over 25 new physicians.

“Every time I recruit a new physician here, the first question they ask is ‘What’s the school system like?'” Sanders said. “And every time it is a privilege to be able to say we’ve got one of the best public school systems in the country.”

Another exemption opponent told Ralston and Gooch, “I feel like our opinion has been voiced … and if our opinion has not been voiced and (the exemption) makes it to the ballot, that will be on the same ballot as the election you guys will be campaigning for.”

Among those in favor of the senior exemption was Fannin County citizen Jim Klack who explained he had lived in Fannin for over 20 years and in that time has paid approximately $100,000 in school taxes. Klack added he currently pays $500 a month in school taxes.

“I’m 85 years old. When do I get any (tax) relief?” Klack asked. “I support the schools and I give them money, but I should not be paying school taxes – $500 a month – when I’m 85  years old and never had a kid in school in Fannin County.”

Also, Klack said 28 counties in Georgia offered a senior tax exemption for taxpayers 65 and older.

Another supporter of the exemption pointed out the majority of opponents and claimed older taxpayers were not notified of the town hall meeting to the same level of publicity that opponents of the exemption were.

To this, Speaker Ralston told the lady he had sent out personal letters over the last two weeks to supporters of the exemption for whom he had contact information, inviting their attendance and participation, and also sent out proper notifications to newspapers informing all residents of the meeting.

In a follow-up interview with Ralston, the speaker described the meeting as “very helpful and very spirited” and said he saw “intense feelings on both sides of the issue.”

“There are certain issues that a community needs to have a discussion about,” Ralston said, “and this meeting helped me to gauge the sense of the community on this exemption.”

The speaker added that he and Senator Gooch would take their time to digest what was said at the town hall before moving forward with the senior tax exemption.

Continue to follow FetchYourNews for more on the status of the senior tax exemption.

Author

Jason Beck

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

Official Trout Festival of Georgia Returns to Celebrate Trout Fishing in the Trout Capital of Georgia

Community

Blue Ridge Trout Fest

 Official Trout Festival of Georgia Returns to Celebrate Trout Fishing in the Trout Capital of Georgia (Jan. 11, 2017)

BLUE RIDGE, GA – The official Trout Festival of Georgia returns to Blue Ridge this spring when thousands of outdoors enthusiasts descend upon Georgia’s top trout-fishing destination – Fannin County, the Trout Capital of Georgia – to benefit cold-water education, service, conservation and recreation in North Georgia via the mission of Blue Ridge Mountain Trout Unlimited Chapter 696. “The Festival is built around the fact that Fannin County has become a trout-fishing destination for fishermen from all over the nation,” says House Speaker David Ralston (representative, 7th District) about the Blue Ridge Trout Festival & Outdoor Adventures event, April 28-29, in Blue Ridge, Georgia. In 2016 Ralston led the effort behind House Resolution 1039 that gave the Festival its official status when the declaration was passed by the Georgia Legislature.

Click Below for Complete Press Release

press release 01-11-2017

Blue Ridge Trout 2

Local Residents, Elected Officials and GDOT Comment on Hwy. 5 Improvement Project

News

GDOT’s Oct. 19th public hearing on the Hwy. 5 Improvement and McCaysville Truck Bypass began at 4 pm.  By 5:30, GDOT already had a count of 354 attendees and the hearing still had two and one-half hours to go.  GDOT did not give any formal announcements during the public hearing.  Its role was to explain the project and listen to people’s reactions.  To explain the project, GDOT placed five large scale maps of the roads’ routes throughout West Fannin Elementary School gymnasium.  It also gave a handout containing GDOT contact numbers, project information and route maps to attendees. Altogether, GDOT brought 17 staff connected to the project to listen to the public and answer questions. GDOT also collected written comments and attendee’s verbal comments.

FetchYourNews caught up with various attendees – homeowners, elected officials and GDOT employees – to hear their comments about the Hwy. 5 project.  To read specifics about the project, please see accompanying article “GDOT Unveils Hwy. 5 Improvement Project”.

Fannin Residents

Joyce Mitchell (yellow) and Laney Mason (grey)

Joyce Mitchell (yellow) and Laney Mason (grey)

Joyce Mitchell – Mitchell came to find out information for herself and her son.  Mitchell lives in Epworth and travels Hwy. 5 nearly every day.  Mitchell’s son has a home on Blue Ridge Drive.  Mitchell said it will be nice to have the highway widened because there is a real need.  Her concerns are over what property will be purchased and how close the road will be to her son’s front door.  Mitchell  also commented that the satellite images GDOT is using for maps are too old because they don’t show buildings like Dollar General and Nicholson Tire.

John and Laney Mason – John Mason came with two ideas in mind.  He is not pro- or anti-road; he just doesn’t want to be “hoo-dooed” by the government during road construction.  The Mason’s bought property between the Insurance Mart and Abernathy’s Furniture two years ago for $200,000.  Mason wants to make sure they can get their money’s worth out of the property.  Laney Mason has a slightly different take on the construction.  She enjoys watching the wildlife – deer, bears, coyotes and beautiful rabbits when she sits on the front porch to her house.  She wonders how road construction will affect how the animals show up at her house.

 

 

Sam and Donna Walker

Sam and Donna Walker

Sam and Donna Walker – The Walkers live off George Curtis Rd.  Sam Walker is the owner of Alpha Surveying Group.  His work requires him to travel north and south on Hwy. 5 all the time.  Walker said that the highway improvement, especially the McCaysville/Copperhill bypass, will free up travel time.  Walker is waiting until GDOT has its firm and actual plans before commenting on how Hwy. 5 improvements will affect his daily life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elected Officials

Post-Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee and House Speaker David Ralston

Post-Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee and House Speaker David Ralston

Larry Jo Sosebee, Post-Two Commissioner – “As soon as we break dirt, I’ll believe it.  I remember my parents talking about it (Hwy. 5 widening).”

House Speaker David Ralston – “It’s not a matter of me wanting to get the project for the district.  There has been community interest in this for over 25 years,” said Ralston.  He reiterated what GDOT was telling all attendees, that the current route design is a proposal and not a definite plan. The definite plan will be the outcome of public comments and future hearings.

FetchYourNews asked Ralston about adding a stoplight to the intersection of Tom Boyd Road and Hwy. 5.  Safety concerns about this intersection have been brought up in Board of Commissioners meetings this year.  Ralston said he supports the request for a stoplight at Tom Boyd Road and has expressed this to GDOT and asked them to make a consideration for the Tom Boyd Hwy. 5 intersection.

 

 

 

State Senator Steve Gooch and Chair-Elect Stan Helton

State Senator Steve Gooch and Chair-Elect Stan Helton

State Senator Steve Gooch – Gooch has been hearing about Hwy. 5 since before he was a State Senator.  Gooch served on the State Transportation Board which oversees GDOT and state-wide road improvements before becoming State Senator.  Gooch said that the Hwy. 5 project is primarily safety improvement which will also have a positive impact on jobs and businesses in the community.  Gooch continued that Hwy. 5 is one of the busiest routes in the county and needs intersection improvements along the way.  Gooch encouraged residents to give GDOT information about the roads’ route because residents have information about specifics, like graveyards or intersection improvements, that GDOT doesn’t have.

Board of Commissioners Chair-Elect Stan Helton – Helton would also like to see a light at Tom Boyd Road.  He recounted passing through the intersection one day and seeing the look of “sheer terror” on a mother’s face as she, with her young child strapped in the car seat in back, was trying to turn onto Hwy. 5.

 

 

Georgia Department of Transportation

Mohamed Arafa

Mohamed Arafa

Mohamed Arafa, GDOT Public Relations Manager for the Hwy. 5 project – Over and over again Arafa stated that nothing has been set in stone. GDOT really wants public involvement in the planning process and public involvement makes a big difference in a project’s outcome because “Fannin residents are the best to express what serves them better.”  Arafa added, “GDOT strongly believes that the project belongs to the public.

The Hwy. 5 project serves two purposes, to enhance safety and support Georgia’s economy said Arafa. Speaking about the McCaysville Truck Bypass, Arafa said that most of the trucks that currently go through McCaysville is not for McCaysville, it is for destinations beyond McCaysville.  The bypass will ease congestion within McCaysville and make the city safer for pedestrians.

Arafa emphasized that GDOT wants to minimize impact of roads on social resources, like community integrity and historic locations, and natural resources, like trout streams, noise level and air quality.  Each transportation project conducts environmental studies about these concerns and welcomes the public’s input about environmental impact said Arafa.

 

Nicole Law

Nicole Law

Nicole Law, GDOT Project Manager for Hwy. 5 Improvement and McCaysville Truck Bypass – Law will be overseeing the project both from her office in Atlanta and on the ground in Fannin County.  Her responsibility is to keep the project moving and on schedule.  Law says that GDOT will be communicating general information about the project timeline and property purchases through its website.  Residents can contact Law at 404-631-1723.

Law said that she and GDOT won’t be able to give any specifics about property purchase until a year or more from now.  Property owners will be informed through letters and phone calls. Law’s phone

 

Aaron Burgess, GDOT Environmental Analyst for the Hwy. 5 project – Burgess is responsible for putting together a synopsis of the ecology, history, archeology, cultural assessment, air quality and noise impact for areas affected by the project.  Burgess said that residents who are concerned about the routes’ passage through historic property or other environmental concerns should contact him.  Burgess’ phone number is 404-631-1159.

 

At this time, no other public hearings are scheduled.  After the public comment period closes, GDOT will compile comments and GDOT’s answers to the comments.  Then, Law will determine if and when more public hearings will be held.

A large scale map of the project is on display at Fannin County Chamber of Commerce.  There is not any map on display at the Fannin County Court House or McCaysville City Hall. To view the map online, go to  http://www.dot.ga.gov/PS/Public/PublicOutreach. Once on the page, search projects by county, choose Fannin County, click on SR 5 Improvements and McCaysville Truck Bypass.  There are several maps.  One shows road width, one the entire project and one concentrates more on the bypass.

There are two ways you can make public comments. One, go to  http://www.dot.ga.gov/PS/Public/PublicOutreach. Once on the page, search projects by county, choose Fannin County, click on SR 5 Improvements and McCaysville Truck Bypass.  The comment option appears in small green letters above the project details.  You can also send comments by mail.  Address comments to

Mr. Eric Duff, State Environmental Administrator

Georgia Department of Transportation

Office of Environmental Services

16th Floor

One Georgia Center

600 West Peachtree Street, N.W.

Atlanta, GA 30308

 

FetchYourNews will give an analysis of the comments and GDOT’s response when those become available. GDOT believes this will be by mid-November.

 

 

 

FCHS Vows to Crush Carrollton High School in Political Competition

Community, Rebel's Corner No Comments on FCHS Vows to Crush Carrollton High School in Political Competition 108

Student Ambassadors Amanda McDaniels, Isabel Wanner and Logan Fitts with the Fannin County School Board.

 

In a bruising upset last year, first place Fannin County High School was trounced by  Carrollton High School at the last minute. Up until the last day of competition, FCHS was ahead by 18,000 points.  On that day, Carrollton High School dumped 48,000 points into their coffers, beating FCHS by 30,000 points.  Carrollton High School (take a glimpse of the Carrollton team here) had a slight lead going into the competition. At 1,526 students, it has 546 more students than FCHS’ 980.  As you can see by the scores, in this game, numbers are everything.

The two high schools are competing with around 100 schools state-wide in the Georgia Secretary of State Student Ambassadors.  Teams earn points through civic participation and voter registration.  Last year, FCHS Student Ambassadors attended local government meetings, observed at polls, registered voters, and visited the General Assembly.

Student Ambassador Logan Fitts said Speaker Ralston is a big help and a big fan.  “Last year he recognized us as outstanding Georgia citizens.”

The stakes couldn’t be higher in this game. Teens learn how individual actions influence local and state governments.  They learn how street potholes get fixed.  And, this November, teens will vote on whether potholes will get fixed when they vote on SPLOST 2016.  In 15 years, they could be the ones deciding what goes on Fannin County’s  SPLOST 2031.

“We are going to take ‘em down,” said Student Ambassador Amanda McDaniels.  Their strategy is being involved in lots of meeting, volunteering and community events.  The team is  looking for more community partners that they can work with to earn points.

Most of FCHS Student Ambassadors are seniors.  They are recruiting juniors and sophomores to create an FCHS dynasty in the Secretary of State’s Student Ambassador’s Program.

 

 

 

 

 

City of Blue Ridge Awarded $500,000 Grant
 for Water System Improvements

News
Press Release from Speaker David Ralston’s office
ATLANTA — Speaker of the House David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) announced that the City of Blue Ridge has been awarded a $500,000 grant to make improvements to its public water system. The grant award is made through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Georgia’s Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG).
“Blue Ridge is one of Georgia’s great small towns and it continually attracts new visitors and residents each year,” said Speaker David Ralston. “This grant will go toward maintaining and improving our public water system, and I appreciate the work of state officials and local partners in making this possible.”
The grant will fund water improvements in the Orchard Boulevard Neighborhood and will benefit more than 150 people. The project includes looping dead end water lines, installation of the new six-inch PVC water main, fire hydrants, valves, meters, and service connections.
“As Blue Ridge continues to grow and prosper, we are constantly planning for the future and making strategic investments in our infrastructure,” said Blue Ridge Mayor Donna Whitener. “By working with state and federal partners, we leverage our investment and improve the quality of life for our residents.”
This CBDG grant is one of 68 awarded to communities across the state this week. Georgia’s CDBG program annually supports projects in small and rural communities that create jobs. Awards will be used for specific projects such as water, sewer, drainage or street improvements, revitalization of targeted neighborhoods, and construction of facilities such as health, youth and senior centers.

 

Commissioners Vote to Table Project Chimps’ Application to House 80 Chimpanzees in Fannin County

News

At their August 9th meeting, Fannin County Board of Commissioners discussed  Project Chimps’ application to bring 80 chimpanzees to live in its sanctuary in Fannin County.  The chimpanzees are to arrive in groups of nine to ten over the next year.  In all, Project Chimps will bring approximately 240 chimpanzees over a period of five years.

The Commissioners must approve Project Chimps’ application for exotic animals before the animals can arrive in Fannin County.  According to Fannin County’s Wild and Exotic Animals Ordinance:  “ In the event that the Fannin County Board of Commissioners determines that such a facility cannot be operated within  Fannin County, Georgia, in a manner to insure the health, safety and well-being of the citizens of this County, then the Board of Commissioners shall have the right to reject said application.  The decision of the Board of Commissioners in any individual case, shall be final.”

The Commissioners voted to review the application at the next County Commissioners’ meeting on August 23rd at 6 pm in the Fannin County Courthouse.

The Commissioners’ actions came as a great surprise to Fannin residents, Project Chimps and national organizations that have been pushing for the retirement of New Iberia Research Center’s chimpanzee population.  New Iberia Research Center, operated by the University of Louisiana – Lafayette, currently houses the chimpanzees.

Project Chimps arrived at the Commissioners’ meeting expecting to give a presentation to the Commissioners before they voted on the application.  Post-Commissioner Earl Johnson said he understood Project Chimps had obtained legal counsel.   Sarah Baeckler Davis, President and CEO of Project Chimps, stated that they had obtained David Ralston as a consultant, not as their attorney.  David Ralston represents Georgia’s 7th District, which includes Fannin County, and is Speaker of the House for Georgia General Assembly. Chairman Simonds said, “I don’t know if we can vote on it yet.”  Mr. Johnson then asked County Attorney Lynn Doss what the appropriate procedures would be for speaking with Project Chimps during the meeting.  Ms. Doss confirmed that the Commissioners need to send comments to her and she will pass the comments on Mr. Ralston.  Post-Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee stated he felt Project Chimps’ obtaining representation by Mr. Ralston was a push to get us [the Commissioners] to vote.

However, during Public Commentary and Commissioners’ Commentary, the Commissioners openly discussed Project Chimps with the organization and Fannin residents in attendance.

Project Chimps’ President and CEO, Sara Baeckler Davis, spoke second during Public Commentary.  She did not give her prepared presentation.  Ms. Baeckler Davis did, though, give an overview of Project Chimps and how it impacts Fannin County.  She spoke about safety measures in place and how the facility will provide jobs and educational opportunities for Fannin residents.  She said that Project Chimps has been overwhelmed by public support from the community.

Sarah Baeckler Davis, President and CEO of Project Chimps

Sarah Baeckler Davis, President and CEO of Project Chimps

Ms. Baeckler Davis said that before coming in front of the County Commissioner, she wanted to have her federal and state permits in place since the Commission could not vote on her application without the two permits.  On July 8th, Project Chimps obtained the United States Department of Agriculture permit and on July 25, it obtained the Georgia Division of Natural Resources permit.

Chad Bowers, owner of Better Building Systems, Inc. in Blue Ridge, was the first Fannin resident to speak.  He is the General Contractor for Project Chimps.  He stated that the organization has already brought $200,000 into his Fannin County business and he estimates around $200,000 more in the near future.

Fannin resident Jan Eaton spoke next.  She pressured the Commissioners to be transparent in “what the big hold up is.” She stated that she had visited the “remarkable facility” and it is a “remarkable thing for the community.”  She finished with, “What is the big problem?”

Next up was a neighbor of Project Chimps, Dawn di Lorenzo. Ms. Di Lorenzo lives on Loving Road, which is close to Project Chimps’ facility on Lowery Road.  She said she is delighted the project will be in the community and she wasn’t aware there was any downside.  Janice Hayes of the Cohutta Animal Clinic and Gary Steverson, owner of Blue Ridge Cotton Company, also spoke in favor of Project Chimps.

Mike Seres, Director of Chimpanzee Management at Project Chimps

Mike Seres, Director of Chimpanzee Management at Project Chimps

Next up was Mike Seres, Director of Chimpanzee Management at Project Chimps.  He stated he has over 40 years’ experience re-socializing and integrating groups of chimpanzees.  His last full-time position was for five years as Great Ape Behavioral Consultant at Kumamoto Sanctuary which is part of Kyoto University in Japan.

No one spoke against Project Chimps during Public Commentary.

During the Commissioners’ Commentary, the Commissioners questioned Ms. Baeckler Davis and also gave comments about the project, even though they stated earlier in the meeting that they would not make public comment, but pass all information through County Attorney Lynn Doss.

First off was Commission Chair Bill Simonds.  The direction of his questions was about the long-term funding sources for Project Chimps.  He said he understands that Project Chimps wants to bring 240 individuals that have a life span of 40-60 years. Mr. Simonds said that it was one long commitment and in 40 years people in this room won’t be around to worry about it. Ms. Baeckler Davis affirmed that the organization is not receiving any federal or state grants.  However, the organization is receiving donations from private individuals, other non-profits, and New Iberia Research Center is also contributing money as part of its contract to retire the chimps at the sanctuary.

Ms. Baeckler Davis also reminded the Commissioners about the timeline for arrival of all 240 chimpanzees.  The chimpanzees will arrive in social groups of 9 to 10 animals at a time.  The application is for 80 chimpanzees because that is what the facility can accommodate at this time.  Later groups will move in as the facility expands, which will take a total of five years.  She also said that the chimpanzees must have health certification, which, according to federal regulations can only occur one-month prior to transportation from Louisiana to Georgia.

At the end of his comments about the application, Mr. Simonds stated that he did not want Fannin county residents to be stuck with caring for the chimpanzees because donations to Project Chimps ran dry.

Post-Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee was next.  His line of questioning was about the health of the animals.  First, he wanted to know if the chimpanzees are newly-arrived from Africa.  Then he questioned about what kind of biomedical research the chimpanzees were used for while they were at New Iberia Research Center.  Ms. Baeckler Davis did not answer this questions.  But, she did say that to pass health inspection, which each animal must have before coming to Fannin County, a veterinarian must state that the animals are healthy and not carriers of disease communicable to humans.  Also, the chimpanzees must have rabies, tetanus, pneumonia and tuberculosis vaccines.  She said Project Chimps’ application contained a letter from the attending veterinarian at New Iberia Research Center confirming the animals are free of communicable disease and have had required vaccinations.  She reminded the Commissioners that the chimpanzees also have USDA and Georgia DNR permits.

Next, Post-Commissioner Earl Johnson “wanted to clear the air.”  He said that this (Aug. 9th) evening was the first time he had received information about Project Chimps and he received it at 5:15, 45 minutes before the meeting.  He said that the only communication that has been done was through County Attorney Lynn Doss and she doesn’t vote.  He also doesn’t want his vote to be a knee-jerk reaction.

In balance to Mr. Johnson’s statements, FetchYourNews reports FetchYourNews reports that a formal announcement of Project Chimps was not made until early May 2016 because negotiations between Project Chimps and New Iberia Research Center had not yet been completed. Then in early May, newswire sources like the Associated Press carried stories about New Iberia Research Center’s chimpanzees moving to Fannin County.  This was publicized by other media outlets.

Project Chimps' team meets with Fannin County EMA.

Project Chimps’ team meets with Fannin County EMA.

Project Chimps met with Fannin County Emergency Management Agency in early summer to discuss safety at the facility. Project Chimps formally applied for the exotic animal permit on July 15, 2016. And, Project Chimps’ Open House on June 25th had over 300 attendees and was well-covered in local media.

Open House attendees listen to Ms. Baekler Davis describe the facility.

Open House attendees listen to Ms. Baekler Davis describe the facility.

FetchYourNews also asked Marie Woody, the Chief Land Development Officer for Fannin County, when she was able to officially inform the Commissioners about the arrival of Project Chimps.  Ms. Woody said that Project Chimps delivered their building permit application in late afternoon on Friday, July 15th and she informed Commission Chairman Bill Simonds and County Attorney Lynn Doss on Monday morning, July 18th.

Then, Mr. Johnson went on to list his concerns.  First and foremost are his concerns about security; can chimpanzees escape the facility or uninvited humans or animals get in?  He also wanted to know if security barriers will hold up if a tree falls on them.  Another concern is what biomedical tests the chimps were involved in and if this can pass to humans through birds or squirrels which will get into the open-air space.  He stated that Robert Graham, Director of Fannin County Emergency Management Agency, should be involved in the decision.  He said we should have started talking about this three months ago.

FetchYourNews reports that the facility Project Chimps owns was donated by Dewar Wildlife Trust, which ran the facility as Gorilla Haven. It housed 1-4 male gorillas, most notably Zoo Atlanta’s Willie B. Jr. and Jasiri.  The gorillas are no longer there and the facility has been retro-fitted to house chimpanzees.  Security walls and fences from the gorilla facility remain.  There are is no publicly available record of Gorilla Haven’s gorillas transmitting illness to humans in Fannin County, nor is there any record of escape.

Finally, Mr. Simonds commented on Project Chimps again.  He said, “We want anything that will benefit Fannin County, but we have to answer to taxpayers.”  He also said that the Commissioners received two calls from residents living in My Mountain complaining that Project Chimps will cause their property value to go down.  My Mountain borders the west side of the Project Chimps facility. He ended with, “We (the Commissioners) are not going to rush into anything.”

 

Fannin County Board of Commissioners Meeting, August 9, 2016 

 

 

This is the first in a series of articles FetchYourNews is writing about Project Chimps.  In the next article, FetchYourNews interviews Mike Seres, Director of Chimpanzee Management and Sarah Baeckler Davis, President and CEO of Project Chimps.  Following articles will examine Commissioners worries about safety, health and funding in comparison to national data and Project Chimps’ facility.

 

This article has been updated from the previous version published on August 13.

 

 

 

 

Commissioners Vote to Table Project Chimps’ Application to House 80 Chimpanzees in Fannin County

News

At their August 9th meeting, Fannin County Board of Commissioners discussed  Project Chimps’ application to bring 80 chimpanzees to live in its sanctuary in Fannin County.  The chimpanzees are to arrive in groups of nine to ten over the next year.  In all, Project Chimps will bring approximately 240 chimpanzees over a period of five years.

The Commissioners must approve Project Chimps’ application for exotic animals before the animals can arrive in Fannin County.  According to Fannin County’s Wild and Exotic Animals Ordinance:  “ In the event that the Fannin County Board of Commissioners determines that such a facility cannot be operated within  Fannin County, Georgia, in a manner to insure the health, safety and well-being of the citizens of this County, then the Board of Commissioners shall have the right to reject said application.  The decision of the Board of Commissioners in any individual case, shall be final.”

The Commissioners voted to review the application at the next County Commissioners’ meeting on August 23rd at 6 pm in the Fannin County Courthouse.

The Commissioners’ actions came as a great surprise to Fannin residents, Project Chimps and national organizations that have been pushing for the retirement of New Iberia Research Center’s chimpanzee population.  New Iberia Research Center, operated by the University of Louisiana – Lafayette, currently houses the chimpanzees.

Project Chimps arrived at the Commissioners’ meeting expecting to give a presentation to the Commissioners before they voted on the application.  Post-Commissioner Earl Johnson said he understood Project Chimps had obtained legal counsel.   Sarah Baeckler Davis, President and CEO of Project Chimps, stated that they had obtained David Ralston as a consultant, not as their attorney.  David Ralston represents Georgia’s 7th District, which includes Fannin County, and is Speaker of the House for Georgia General Assembly. Chairman Simonds said, “I don’t know if we can vote on it yet.”  Mr. Johnson then asked County Attorney Lynn Doss what the appropriate procedures would be for speaking with Project Chimps during the meeting.  Ms. Doss confirmed that the Commissioners need to send comments to her and she will pass the comments on Mr. Ralston.  Post-Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee stated he felt Project Chimps’ obtaining representation by Mr. Ralston was a push to get us [the Commissioners] to vote.

However, during Public Commentary and Commissioners’ Commentary, the Commissioners openly discussed Project Chimps with the organization and Fannin residents in attendance.

Project Chimps’ President and CEO, Sara Baeckler Davis, spoke second during Public Commentary.  She did not give her prepared presentation.  Ms. Baeckler Davis did, though, give an overview of Project Chimps and how it impacts Fannin County.  She spoke about safety measures in place and how the facility will provide jobs and educational opportunities for Fannin residents.  She said that Project Chimps has been overwhelmed by public support from the community.

Sarah Baeckler Davis, President and CEO of Project Chimps

Sarah Baeckler Davis, President and CEO of Project Chimps

Ms. Baeckler Davis said that before coming in front of the County Commissioner, she wanted to have her federal and state permits in place since the Commission could not vote on her application without the two permits.  On July 8th, Project Chimps obtained the United States Department of Agriculture permit and on July 25, it obtained the Georgia Division of Natural Resources permit.

Chad Bowers, owner of Better Building Systems, Inc. in Blue Ridge, was the first Fannin resident to speak.  He is the General Contractor for Project Chimps.  He stated that the organization has already brought $200,000 into his Fannin County business and he estimates around $200,000 more in the near future.

Fannin resident Jan Eaton spoke next.  She pressured the Commissioners to be transparent in “what the big hold up is.” She stated that she had visited the “remarkable facility” and it is a “remarkable thing for the community.”  She finished with, “What is the big problem?”

Next up was a neighbor of Project Chimps, Dawn di Lorenzo. Ms. Di Lorenzo lives on Loving Road, which is close to Project Chimps’ facility on Lowery Road.  She said she is delighted the project will be in the community and she wasn’t aware there was any downside.  Janice Hayes of the Cohutta Animal Clinic and Gary Steverson, owner of Blue Ridge Cotton Company, also spoke in favor of Project Chimps.

Mike Seres, Director of Chimpanzee Management at Project Chimps

Mike Seres, Director of Chimpanzee Management at Project Chimps

Next up was Mike Seres, Director of Chimpanzee Management at Project Chimps.  He stated he has over 40 years’ experience re-socializing and integrating groups of chimpanzees.  His last full-time position was for five years as Great Ape Behavioral Consultant at Kumamoto Sanctuary which is part of Kyoto University in Japan.

No one spoke against Project Chimps during Public Commentary.

During the Commissioners’ Commentary, the Commissioners questioned Ms. Baeckler Davis and also gave comments about the project, even though they stated earlier in the meeting that they would not make public comment, but pass all information through County Attorney Lynn Doss.

First off was Commission Chair Bill Simonds.  The direction of his questions was about the long-term funding sources for Project Chimps.  He said he understands that Project Chimps wants to bring 240 individuals that have a life span of 40-60 years. Mr. Simonds said that it was one long commitment and in 40 years people in this room won’t be around to worry about it. Ms. Baeckler Davis affirmed that the organization is not receiving any federal or state grants.  However, the organization is receiving donations from private individuals, other non-profits, and New Iberia Research Center is also contributing money as part of its contract to retire the chimps at the sanctuary.

Ms. Baeckler Davis also reminded the Commissioners about the timeline for arrival of all 240 chimpanzees.  The chimpanzees will arrive in social groups of 9 to 10 animals at a time.  The application is for 80 chimpanzees because that is what the facility can accommodate at this time.  Later groups will move in as the facility expands, which will take a total of five years.  She also said that the chimpanzees must have health certification, which, according to federal regulations can only occur one-month prior to transportation from Louisiana to Georgia.

At the end of his comments about the application, Mr. Simonds stated that he did not want Fannin county residents to be stuck with caring for the chimpanzees because donations to Project Chimps ran dry.

Post-Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee was next.  His line of questioning was about the health of the animals.  First, he wanted to know if the chimpanzees are newly-arrived from Africa.  Then he questioned about what kind of biomedical research the chimpanzees were used for while they were at New Iberia Research Center.  Ms. Baeckler Davis did not answer this questions.  But, she did say that to pass health inspection, which each animal must have before coming to Fannin County, a veterinarian must state that the animals are healthy and not carriers of disease communicable to humans.  Also, the chimpanzees must have rabies, tetanus, pneumonia and tuberculosis vaccines.  She said Project Chimps’ application contained a letter from the attending veterinarian at New Iberia Research Center confirming the animals are free of communicable disease and have had required vaccinations.  She reminded the Commissioners that the chimpanzees also have USDA and Georgia DNR permits.

Next, Post-Commissioner Earl Johnson “wanted to clear the air.”  He said that this (Aug. 9th) evening was the first time he had received information about Project Chimps and he received it at 5:15, 45 minutes before the meeting.  He said that the only communication that has been done was through County Attorney Lynn Doss and she doesn’t vote.  He also doesn’t want his vote to be a knee-jerk reaction.

In balance to Mr. Johnson’s statements, FetchYourNews reports FetchYourNews reports that a formal announcement of Project Chimps was not made until early May 2016 because negotiations between Project Chimps and New Iberia Research Center had not yet been completed. Then in early May, newswire sources like the Associated Press carried stories about New Iberia Research Center’s chimpanzees moving to Fannin County.  This was publicized by other media outlets.

Project Chimps' team meets with Fannin County EMA.

Project Chimps’ team meets with Fannin County EMA.

Project Chimps met with Fannin County Emergency Management Agency in early summer to discuss safety at the facility. Project Chimps formally applied for the exotic animal permit on July 15, 2016. And, Project Chimps’ Open House on June 25th had over 300 attendees and was well-covered in local media.

Open House attendees listen to Ms. Baekler Davis describe the facility.

Open House attendees listen to Ms. Baekler Davis describe the facility.

FetchYourNews also asked Marie Woody, the Chief Land Development Officer for Fannin County, when she was able to officially inform the Commissioners about the arrival of Project Chimps.  Ms. Woody said that Project Chimps delivered their building permit application in late afternoon on Friday, July 15th and she informed Commission Chairman Bill Simonds and County Attorney Lynn Doss on Monday morning, July 18th.

Then, Mr. Johnson went on to list his concerns.  First and foremost are his concerns about security; can chimpanzees escape the facility or uninvited humans or animals get in?  He also wanted to know if security barriers will hold up if a tree falls on them.  Another concern is what biomedical tests the chimps were involved in and if this can pass to humans through birds or squirrels which will get into the open-air space.  He stated that Robert Graham, Director of Fannin County Emergency Management Agency, should be involved in the decision.  He said we should have started talking about this three months ago.

FetchYourNews reports that the facility Project Chimps owns was donated by Dewar Wildlife Trust, which ran the facility as Gorilla Haven. It housed 1-4 male gorillas, most notably Zoo Atlanta’s Willie B. Jr. and Jasiri.  The gorillas are no longer there and the facility has been retro-fitted to house chimpanzees.  Security walls and fences from the gorilla facility remain.  There are is no publicly available record of Gorilla Haven’s gorillas transmitting illness to humans in Fannin County, nor is there any record of escape.

Finally, Mr. Simonds commented on Project Chimps again.  He said, “We want anything that will benefit Fannin County, but we have to answer to taxpayers.”  He also said that the Commissioners received two calls from residents living in My Mountain complaining that Project Chimps will cause their property value to go down.  My Mountain borders the west side of the Project Chimps facility. He ended with, “We (the Commissioners) are not going to rush into anything.”

 

Fannin County Board of Commissioners Meeting, August 9, 2016 

 

 

This is the first in a series of articles FetchYourNews is writing about Project Chimps.  In the next article, FetchYourNews interviews Mike Seres, Director of Chimpanzee Management and Sarah Baeckler Davis, President and CEO of Project Chimps.  Following articles will examine Commissioners worries about safety, health and funding in comparison to national data and Project Chimps’ facility.

 

This article has been updated from the previous version published on August 13.

 

 

 

 

Commissioners Vote to Table Project Chimps’ Application to House 80 Chimpanzees in Fannin County

News

At their August 9th meeting, Fannin County Board of Commissioners discussed  Project Chimps application to bring 80 chimpanzees to live in Project Chimps’ sanctuary in Fannin County.  The chimpanzees are to arrive to sanctuary in groups of nine to ten over the next year. The Commissioners must approve Project Chimps’ application for exotic animals before the animals can arrive in Fannin County.  According to Fannin County’s  Wild and Exotic Animals Ordinance:  “ In the event that the Fannin County Board of Commissioners determines that such a facility cannot be operated within  Fannin County, Georgia, in a manner to insure the health, safety and well being of the citizens of this County, then the Board of Commissioners shall have the right to reject said application.  The decision of the Board of Commissioners in any individual case, shall be final.”

The Commissioners did not vote against the Project Chimps’ exotic animal application; they voted to review the application at the next County Commissioners’ meeting on August 23rd at 6 pm in the Fannin County Courthouse.

Project Chimps is at the former Gorilla Haven facility which housed 1-4 male gorillas, most notably, Atlanta Zoo’s Willie B. Jr. and Jasiri.  The gorillas are no longer there and the facility has been retro-fitted to house chimpanzees.

The Commissioners’ actions came as a great surprise to Fannin residents, Project Chimps and national organizations that have been pushing for the retirement of New Iberia Research Center’s chimpanzee population.  New Iberia Research Center, operated by the University of Louisiana – Lafayette, currently houses the chimpanzees.

Sarah Baekler Davis, President and CEO of Project Chimps

Sarah Baekler Davis, President and CEO of Project Chimps

Project Chimps arrived at the Commissioners’ meeting expecting to give a presentation to the Commissioners before they voted on the application.  Post-Commissioner Earl Johnson said he understood Project Chimps had obtained legal counsel.   Sarah Baekler Davis, President and CEO of Project Chimps, stated that they had obtained David Ralston as a consultant, not as their attorney.  David Ralston represents Georgia’s 7th District, which includes Fannin County, and is Speaker of the House for Georgia General Assembly. Chairman Simonds said, “I don’t know if we can vote on it yet.”  Mr. Johnson then asked County Attorney Lynn Doss what the appropriate procedures would be for speaking with Project Chimps during the meeting.  Ms. Doss confirmed that the Commissioners need to send comments her and she will pass the comments on Mr. Ralston.  Post-Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee stated he felt Project Chimps’ obtaining representation by Mr. Ralston was a push to get us to vote.

However, during Public Commentary and Commissioner’s Commentary, the Commissioners openly discussed Project Chimps with organization representatives and Fannin residents in attendance.

Project Chimps’ President and CEO, Sara Baekler Davis, spoke second during Public Comments.  She did not give her prepared presentation.  Ms. Baekler Davis did, though, give an overview of Project Chimps and how it impacts Fannin County.  She spoke about safety measures in place and how the facility will provide jobs and educational opportunities for Fannin residents.  She said that Project Chimps has been overwhelmed by public support from the community.

Ms. Baekler Davis said that before coming in front of the County Commissioner, she wanted to have her federal and state permits in place since the Commission could not vote on her application without the two permits.  On July 8th, Project Chimps obtained the United States Department of Agriculture permit and on July 25, it obtained the Georgia Division of Natural Resources permit.

Chad Bowers, owner of Better Building Systems, Inc. in Blue Ridge.  He is the General Contractor for Project Chimps.  He stated that the organization has already brought $200,000 into his Fannin County business and he estimates around $200,000 more in the near future.

Fannin resident Jan Eaton spoke next.  She pressured the Commissioners to be transparent about “what the big hold up is.” She stated that she had visited the “remarkable facility” and it is a “remarkable thing for the community.”  She finished with, “What is the big problem?”

Next up was a neighbor of Project Chimps, Dawn di Lorenzo. Ms. Di Lorenzo lives on Loving Road, which is close to Project Chimps’ facility on Lowery Road.  She said she is delighted the project will be in the community and she wasn’t aware there was any downside.  Janice Hayes of the Cohutta Animal Clinic and Gary Steverson, owner of Blue Ridge Cotton Company, also spoke in favor of Project Chimps.

Mike Seres, Director of Chimpanzee Management

Mike Seres, Director of Chimpanzee Management

Next up was Mike Seres, Director of Chimpanzee Management at Project Chimps.  He stated he has over 40 years’ experience re-socializing and integrating groups of chimpanzees.  His last full-time position was for five years as Great Ape Behavioral Consultant at Kumamoto Sanctuary which is part of Kyoto University in Japan.

During the Commissioners’ Commentary, the Commissioners questioned Ms. Baekler Davis and also gave comments about the project, though they stated earlier in the meeting that they would not make public comment but pass all information through County Attorney Lynn Doss.

First off was Commission Chair Bill Simonds.  The direction of his questions was about the long-term funding sources for Project Chimps.  He said that the life span of chimpanzees is 40-60 years and that Project Chimps wants to bring 240 chimpanzees to Fannin County.  Mr. Simonds said that it was one long commitment and in 40 years people in this room won’t be around to worry about it. Ms. Baekler Davis affirmed that the organization is not receiving any federal or state grants.  However, the organization is receiving donations from private individuals and other non-profits and New Iberia Research Center is also contributing money as part of its contract to retire the chimps at the sanctuary.

Ms. Baekler-Davis also reminded the Commissioners about the timeline for arrival of all 240 chimpanzees.  The chimpanzees will arrive in social groups of 9 to 10 animals at a time.  The application is for 80 chimpanzees because that is what the facility can accommodate at this time.  Later groups will move as the facility expands, which will take a total of five years.  She also said that the chimpanzees must have health certification, which, according to federal regulations can only occur one-month prior to transportation from Louisiana to Georgia.

At the end of his comments about the application, Mr. Simonds stated that he did not want Fannin county residents to be stuck with caring for the chimpanzees because donations to Project Chimps ran out.

Post-Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee was next.  His line of questioning was about the health of the animals.  First, he wanted to know if the chimpanzees are newly-arrived from Africa.  Then he questioned about what kind of bio-medical research the chimpanzees were used for while they were at New Iberia Research Center.  Ms. Baekler Davis said that to pass health inspection, which each animal must have before coming to Fannin County, a veterinarian must state that the animals are healthy and not carriers of disease communicable to humans.  Also, the chimpanzees must have rabies, tetanus, pneumonia and tuberculosis vaccines before they can leave New Iberia.  She said Project Chimps a letter from the attending veterinarian at New Iberia Research Center confirming the animals are free of communicable disease and have had required vaccinations.  She reminded the Commissioners that the chimpanzees also have USDA and Georgia DNR permits.

Next, Post-Commissioner Earl Johnson “wanted to clear the air.”  He said that this (Aug. 9th) evening was the first time he had received information about Project Chimps and he received it at 5:15, 45 minutes before the meeting.  He said that the only communication that has been done was through County Attorney Lynn Doss and she doesn’t vote.  He also doesn’t want his vote to be a knee-jerk reaction.

Project Chimps' team meets with Fannin County EMA.

Project Chimps’ team meets with Fannin County EMA.

In balance to Mr. Johnson’s statements, FetchYourNews reports that in early May, news wire sources like the Associated Press carried stories about New Iberia Research Center’s chimpanzees moving to Fannin County.  This was publicized by media outlets.  Project Chimps met with Fannin County Emergency Management Agency in early summer to discuss safety at the facility. Project Chimps formally applied for the exotic animal permit on July 15, 2016. And, Project Chimps’ Open House on June 25th had over 100 attendees and was well-covered in local media.

Open House attendees listen to Ms. Baekler Davis describe the facility.

Open House attendees listen to Ms. Baekler Davis describe the facility.

 

Then, Mr. Johnson went on to list his concerns.  First and foremost are his concerns about security; can chimpanzees escape the facility or uninvited humans or animals get in?  He also wants to know if security barriers will hold up if a tree falls on them.  Another concern is what the chimps were tested for and if this can pass to humans through birds or squirrels which will get into the open-air space.  He stated that Robert Graham, Director of Fannin County Emergency Management Agency, should be involved in the decision.  He said we should have started talking about this three months ago.

FetchYourNews reports that a formal announcement of Project Chimps was not made until early May 2016 because negotiations between Project Chimps and New Iberia Research Center had not yet been completed.

Finally, Mr. Simonds commented on Project Chimps again.  He said, “We want anything that will benefit Fannin County, but we have to answer to taxpayers.”  He also said that the Commissioners received two calls from residents living in My Mountain complaining that Project Chimps will cause their property value to go down.  My Mountain borders the west side of the Project Chimps facility. He ended with, “We (the Commissioners) are not going to rush into anything.”

The Commissioners will reconsider the application at their August 23rd meeting.

 

This is the first in a series of articles FetchYourNews is writing about Project Chimps.  In the next article, FetchYourNews interviews Sarah Baekler Davis, President and CEO of Project Chimps.  Following articles will examine Commissioners worries about safety, health and funding in comparison to national data and Project Chimps’ facility.

 

 

 

 

 

Fannin Board of Education Issues “Bathroom Policy” as Georgia Joins 11-State Lawsuit Over Transgender Bathrooms

News

The decision about transgender bathrooms in Fannin County schools has been taken out of the hands of the Fannin County School Board. On May 25, Georgia, along with 10 other states sued the federal government over the federal guidelines that directed school to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker facilities that match their gender identities.  The other 10 states in the lawsuit are from all over the county:  Texas, Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Arizona, Maine, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Utah. On Friday, Kentucky joined the lawsuit. North Dakota’s Attorney General said he would like North Dakota to join the lawsuit and probably more states will follow. The federal departments that are defendants in the lawsuit are the Department of Education, Department of Justice, United States Equal Opportunity Commission and the Department of Labor.

The original eleven states say that they are bringing the lawsuit against the federal government because:

“Defendants [the federal government agencies] have conspired to turn workplaces and educational settings across the county into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process, and running roughshod over commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights… Absent action in Congress, the States, or local communities, defendants cannot foist these radical changes on the nation.” (click here to read the lawsuit)

Georgia and the other states filed the lawsuit in response to the May 13, US Department of Justice and the Department of Education’s “Dear Colleague” letter sent to schools across the nation.  The letter’s purpose is to provide information and examples about how school districts across the nation provide bathrooms and locker room facilities for transgender students.  The letter also states that the federal government will evaluate other schools’ transgender policies and actions using the example school districts as a guideline. (click here to read the “Dear Colleague Letter”)

Along with the letter, the federal government sent a 18-page description of programs different schools and school districts throughout the United States have in place to accommodate transgender students.  The description covers 20 local and state school districts.  (read guidance programs described in the Department of Education’s “Examples of Policies and Emerging Practices for Supporting Transgender Students”)

On May 25th ,the same day Georgia joined the 11-state lawsuit against the US Government, Fannin County Board of Education sent a letter to Fannin County parents. (read Mr. Henson’s letter here)  The letter begins with quoting Georgia Department of Education’s belief the federal governments’ actions regarding accommodations for transgender students are an overreach of the Executive Branch of the Federal government.  It goes on to quote Georgia’s Superintendent of School Richard Woods, who says, “I do not believe a student of another gender should use a restroom or locker alongside students of the opposite sex.”

Towards the end of the letter, Fannin Schools Superintendent Mark Henson states, “Fannin County will maintain restrooms and locker rooms for the 2016-2017 school year which are based on birth sex rather than gender identity.  Alternate restrooms will be provided for any transgender students we may have enrolled next year.”  Mr. Henson affirms that all current board members and staff support the Board of Education’s decision.  Mr. Henson ends his comments about transgender bathrooms saying, “At the same time, we will continue to support ALL students in our system and protect each student’s personal right to a free, safe public education and the respect that each individual deserves at all times.”

Georgia started openly moving towards it opposition of the Federal government’s position regarding transgender bathrooms House Speaker David Ralston’s letter to Senator Isakson and Perdue on May 12th.  Speaker Ralston wrote the letter on behalf of the citizens of Fannin County.  In it Speaker Ralston says “the federal government is dictating to our locally-elected Board of Education with regards to the policies they enact in a way never seen before.” Coincidentally, May 12th , the day of Speaker Ralston’s letter, is also the day the Board of Education listened to 2 ½ hours of public opinion about transgender bathrooms.  At the end of the public comments section, Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss, stated the school system’s opinion that forcing transgender bathrooms is government overreach and encouraged people to speak to their elected officials.  (watch Ms. Doss’ comments here) The School Board echoed Ms. Doss’ comments during their comments at the end of the meeting.  School Board Member Terry Bramlett said the people at the meeting tonight should share the same level of passion with representatives in Washington.  He encouraged everyone to write to state and national officials whose duty it is to make legislation about transgender bathrooms.

On May 17th, State Senator Steve Gooch told the Helen City Commission that we’ve asked the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general to take a strong stand against the Federal government’s position on transgender bathrooms.  That same day, Governor Nathan Deal issued a statement reading:

“Until Congress acts, I assure the citizens of Georgia that the offices of the governor, attorney general and state school superintendent will work cooperatively to protect the interests of Georgia’s children from this abuse of federal executive authority.”

Deal also asked Superintendent Woods to provide uniform state-wide guidance to Georgia schools in regards to accommodations for transgender students.  May 20th, State School Superintendent Richard Woods sent a sort of “Dear Colleague” letter to Georgia Superintendents.  In it, Mr.  Woods uses the same language as Speaker Ralston’s letter.  Mr. Woods says that the federal government’s guidance letter is an overreach of the Executive Branch of the federal government.  The letter goes on to state Mr. Woods’ opinion about transgender bathrooms.  He says, “I do not believe a student of another gender should use a restroom or locker room alongside students of the opposite sex.” The letter also promises that if the federal government brings a lawsuit against any school district, the state of Georgia will “take appropriate action.” (read Superintendent Woods’ letter here)

Later this week FetchYourNews will speak with Mr. Henson about how Georgia’s joining the 12 state lawsuit affects Fannin County School Systems’ potential financial liability in regards to accommodating transgender students.

 

See Related Posts:           “Fannin County Board of Education Hears Public Comments About Transgender Bathrooms in Fannin Schools”

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

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

“Fannin County Schools’ Bus Driver and Pastor, Larry Williams, Says Job Never Threatened”

 

 

See Related Videos:   “Fannin County Board of Education Public Comments Concerning Transgender Bathrooms”

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

 

 

 

 

House Speaker David Ralston Wins!

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sos.ga.gov

State Representative, District 7 – REP
County Reporting = County Reporting
County DAVID RALSTON (I) SAM SNIDER Total
County Reporting Dawson 334 143 477
County Reporting Fannin 3583 1729 5,312
County Reporting Gilmer 2632 1496 4,128
Total: 6,549 3,368 9,917

Sam Snider and Speaker Ralston Speak at Fannin Forum

Election, News, Politics

At the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce’s Fannin County Political Forum last night, 18 candidates for six different contested local elections including the District 7 House of Representatives’ race.

Out of all the races, the  starkest contrast between between defining the function of the office was in the District 7 House of Representatives’ race between Sam Snider from Gilmer county and incumbent House Speaker David Ralston.  Mr. Snider’s platform was more about personal beliefs and the political philosophy he would use to shape his decisions.  Speaker Ralston’s answers mainly focused on economic drivers and infrastructure development that he has been able to arrange for District 7.

Speaker Ralston said that he was running to be a representative for District 7 and did not emphasize that being Speaker brought greater access to political perks for the District.  From his examples, though, it was clear that if District 7 was no longer the home district of the Speaker of the House, projects and funds would slow to a trickle.  Some examples of home district projects Speaker Ralston cited was ending 30 years of state inaction on improving Hwy. 5 and bringing  a  top-tier public university education option to a central location in District 7 with University of North Georgia’s new campus in Blue Ridge.

Mr. Snider, on the other hand, made it clear that if elected, his focus would be lower taxes, reducing government size, less top-down regulations, and use of sales taxes rather than income tax to fund the state.  Mr. Snider did not comment on how he would bring Georgia tax dollars to work in District 7.

Speaker Ralston picked up on Mr. Snider’s brushstroke  comments about how he, Mr. Snider, would vote in office.  Speaker Ralston said that it is easy to use bumper sticker slogans, but a representative needs to look at innovative ways to solve problems.

Mr. Snider’s statements caused Speaker Ralston to justify his statewide actions on supporting a gas tax to increase Georgia Department of Transportation budget.  The tax is based on the volume of gas that a person buys, not the end total cost of the gas.   Speaker Ralston said, “People know that we don’t have a transportation fairy up there dropping money out of the sky.”  He continued that GDOT’s revenue streams had not been recalculated in 40 years and the lack of adequate funds were showing in poor road conditions all over the state.  Also, Speaker Ralston saw increasing GDOT’s budget as a way to move the state out of federal control over Georgia’s roads and bridges.

Speaker Ralston continued on this theme to show the weakness of Mr. Sniders’ fair tax platform.  Speaker Ralston stated that taxing gas on volume, not total cost, was the fairest tax possible.  He also brought up that funding government solely through sales tax revenue would cause segments of Georgia’s population greater financial stress because they would feel the tax in the everyday items that they must buy, like food.  His example was that a lower sales tax on groceries means that seniors on fixed incomes don’t have to pay an extra 4% tax on food, which is the state’s portion of sales tax on goods.

Mr. Snider questioned Speaker Ralston’s power of influence over the religious liberties’ bills.  Mr. Snider wanted to know why Speaker Ralston couldn’t find the two-thirds majority needed to overturn Gov. Deal’s veto when 86% of the House is Republican. Mr. Snider insinuated that Speaker Ralston voted in support of the religious liberties bill while knowing all along that Governor Deal would veto it. Speaker Ralston’s answer was that he will continue to work on a solution for the religious liberties bill so that the issue won’t continue floating around and try to reach a consensus that is acceptable to many parties.

In perhaps a nod to the recovering some of the political capital Speaker Ralston had to spend with the veto of the religious liberties bill, Speaker Ralston said that he will strengthen the campus carry gun bill which at this point Gov. Deal is lukewarm about signing into law. Mr. Snider did not speak about gun legislation.

Their closing remarks again highlighted the political ideology platform which Snider is running on and district improvement projects that Speaker Ralston is running on.  Mr. Snider talked about reducing government size by diminishing the top layer of state government but keeping those on the lower layers that are putting in full days’ work.  Mr. Snider reminded everyone that he is not a career, establishment politician like Speaker Ralston.  If elected, Mr. Snider promised to bring teamwork to leadership like he had done in his career as a successful wrestling coach for Gilmer County Schools and the founding leadership for two Gilmer churches.  Speaker Ralston asked the audience to consider who will bring the most effective representation for District 7 and to choose a Representative dedicated to a positive vision rather than nay-saying.

House Speaker Ralston Sends Letter to Senators Isakson and Perdue About Transgender Bathrooms in Fannin

News

ralston letter

Morganton Honors Barbara Stephens

News

It was a Saturday afternoon family reunion at the Love home place on the corner of US 76 and Hwy 60.  Family and friends gathered underneath the tremendous oak tree in the front yard to honor Barbara Stephens commitment to the community of Morganton by naming Morganton’s stretch of Hwy. 60 the Barbara Stevens Memorial Highway.

“Ms. Stephens epitomized what caring about your community is,” said House Speaker David Ralston as he presented House Resolution 1524, which establishes the Barbara Stephens Memorial Highway.  Mr. Ralston read a venerable list of actions Ms. Stephens performed to serve her community.  These include:

  • 13 ½ years as mayor of Morganton
  • Prevented Morganton from disbanding and becoming an unincorporated community in Fannin
  • Modernized Morganton’s water lines and increased water services to all areas of the Morganton community
  • Established fire station in Morganton
  • Taught at East Fannin Elementary School
  • Taught Sunday School at Temple Baptist Church

Bill Stephens, Ms. Stephens’ son, said his mother was an authentic mountain woman: tough and tender, independent, self-sufficient and of strong faith.  She would have loved being here, not for the signs, but for the friends.  He told onlookers that every time they drove by the signs to have a positive thought about how much Ms. Stephens loved being here, in Georgia.

The branches of the Stephen’s family that were at the naming ceremony were as thick, strong and numerous as the branches on the tremendous oak tree in the front yard.  My apologies to the Stephens family if I mixed up some of the numerous branches that were there.

Keeping with the family spirit, I found out that I may be a distant twig on the family tree, growing out of the Love family branch.  My husband’s family, three generations back, hails from the same area of North Carolina as the Loves do. Some generations back, the Love family migrated from Morganton, North Carolina to Morganton, Georgia.

Jeanette McDaris, Cathy McDaris, Tim McDaris, Jim McDaris,Cindy Querry and John Querry

Jeanette McDaris, Cathy McDaris, Tim McDaris, Jim McDaris,Cindy Querry and John Querry

The McDaris and Querry families came to honor Ms. Stephens.  Jim McDaris, first cousin to Ms. Stephens, grew up on the other side of the creek from her.

 

 

 

Delores Stephens Owenby, sister in-law of Ms. Stephens.

Delores Stephens Owenby, sister in-law of Ms. Stephens.

 

 

In the summers, Ms. Owenby and Ms. Stephens would just get in the car, go and have fun.  Their trips took them to Arizona and Florida.  Ms. Owenby was glad she could attend to honor such a sweet person.

 

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Deana Moss, Bill Stephens and Inez Davis. Ms. Davis is double-kin to the Stephens family.

Deana Moss, Bill Stephens and Inez Davis

Inez Davis was neighbors with Veech Stephens on Cutcane Road.  Ms. Davis’ daughter, Dannette, got to attend the ceremony in spirit. Ms. Davis’ election sign, on the corner of 76 and 60,  looks onto the gathering.

 

Beulah and Larry Williams.  Ms. Williams is the daughter of Mrs. Stephens

Beulah and Larry Williams. Ms. Williams is the daughter of Mrs. Stephens

Larry Williams worked for Ms. Stephens as Water Commissioner for Morganton when Morganton was putting in its water system.  Mr. Williams said Ms. Stephens was more than a boss, she was a friend.  Even now, Morganton’s water system is benefitting more than just the people who live in Morganton.  The Fannin County Water Authority  is buying water from Morganton to provide to homes north of 515.

 

 

House Speaker David Ralston

House Speaker David Ralston

 

Even House Speaker David Ralston is part of the Stephens family.  In August, his niece will marry Josh Stephens, oldest grandson of Barbara Stephens.

 

Bill Stephens, Ms. Stephens' son, and Josh Stephens, oldest grandson, with Sarah Ralston who will wed Josh Stephens in August.

Bill Stephens, Ms. Stephens’ son, and Josh Stephens, oldest grandson, with Sarah Ralston who will wed Josh Stephens in August.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Larry Jo and Shirely Sosebee with grandson Hudson Franklin,

Larry Jo and Shirely Sosebee with grandson Hudson Franklin,

Larry Jo and Shirley Sosebee kept with the family spirit by bringing their own family spirit, grandson Hudson Franklin.

Bill Stephens and State Senator Steve Gooch.

Bill Stephens and State Senator Steve Gooch.

 

 

State Senator Steve Gooch assisted House Speaker David Ralston with the ceremony.

 

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

News

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

julia pruitt

Julia Pruitt

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

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

 

Anthony Walton’s Comments

Anthony Walden

Anthony Walden

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

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

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

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

 

Alliance Defending Freedom’s comments

Attorney Ken Fletcher

Attorney Ken Fletcher

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

 

County Attorney Lynn Doss’ Comments

Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss

Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss

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

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

 

Superintendent Mark Henson’s Comments

Fannin County School Superintendent Mark Henson

Fannin County School Superintendent Mark Henson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

School Board Members’ Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

The School Board meeting ended at 9:30.

 

See related posts:

 “Transgender Bathrooms in Fannin County Schools”

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

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

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

 

See Related Videos:

Public Comments at Fannin BOE Meeting

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

March to Fannin County Board of Education

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

 

Blue Ridge Trout Fest and Outdoor Adventures Focuses on Fannin

News

This weekend, Friday, April 29 and Saturday, April 30 and Blue Ridge Trout Fest and Outdoor Adventures will promote everything outdoors that Fannin has to offer.

Fannin County Chamber of Commerce proposed the idea for the festival to capture the camping, hiking, biking, rafting and, of course, trout fishing that people come here for. Blue Ridge Mountain Trout Unlimited Chapter 696, the host of the event, has worked with local organizations like the Boy Scouts, Rotary Club and Fannin County High School to organize the event.  The Blue Ridge Lodging Association has helped greatly with the logistics. Keeping with the goal of promoting all of Fannin County as an outdoor destinations, all participating fishing and rafting guide services work in Fannin County. The USFS will be promoting public natural resources and trails throughout the county, especially the Trout Adventure Trail.

Bob Borgwat, Fannin fishing guide and Trout Unlimited member says that Fannin’s trout fishing is unique because there is an opportunity for every style of fisherman.  Anglers can choose between fishing for wild trout or stocked trout, brown, rainbow or brook trout.  People can fish from the headwaters to the tailwaters year-round.  Even during late summer, upstream feeder creeks have brook trout. The fishing areas are diverse as well, from river and creek access points near a road to back-county access points promising solitude but requiring a hike. In fact, all surface water in Fannin County is classified as trout water quality by the EPD.  And, it helps that Fannin is about the first cold-water fishing opportunity a person hits when travelling north from Florida.

Mr. Borgwat, whose articles about north Georgia trout fishing has appeared in Southern Trout and Georgia Outdoors, will be giving a presentation about wild trout on the Upper Toccoa. Other presentations include tips and tactics, making fishing flies and choosing equipment.  Atlanta Fly Fishing will offer free fly-fishing lessons in the morning.  There will also be a casting pool where local guides and vendors can help festival-goers better their form. (click here for program schedule)

Other activities include a kid’s area which Blue Ridge Mountain Arts Association is running.  On Friday night, the Rotary Club is sponsoring “Trout Train”.  On Saturday, three north Georgia bands will be performing in the Beer Garden area.

The Blue Ridge Trout Fest & Outdoor Adventure will be the 1st  trout festival in Georgia. Even before it occurs, the festival is already Georgia’s official trout festival.  House Speaker David Ralston built on his commitment of promoting Fannin tourism and Fannin County as the Trout Capital of Georgia by passing a resolution that the Blue Ridge Trout Fest is Georgia’s official trout festival.

Trout Unlimited expects between 5,000 and 8,000 people and has its sights on a larger crowd next year.  Proceeds from the event will fund Trout Unlimited’s programs in Fannin county like Trout in the Classroom, Project Healing Waters for Wounded Veterans, Casting for Recovery from Breast Cancer, Boy Scouts’ and Girl Scouts’ conservation education, Georgia Trout Camp, Trout Adventure Trail and Mercier Orchard Family Fishing Days.

 

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