Fannin County School System aces SPLOST audit

Community, News, Rebel's Corner

Blue Ridge, Ga. – An audit of the Fannin County School System’s SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) collection and spending has shown that the district is being good stewards of these funds.

Fannin County School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney explained the purposes of the independent audit were a requirement by the state when SPLOST collections exceed $5 million within a county.

SPLOST collections for 2017 totaled approximately $5.1 million and collections for 2018 topped that number bringing in $5.6 million.

Finance Director Susan Holloway explained that the Fannin County School calendar year ran from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018, and that collections during this period was the first fiscal school year that the system met the amount requiring an audit.

Georgia code section O.C.G.A.20-2-491 requires public school systems to maintain continuing performance audits for expenditures of sales tax.
Mauldin and Jenkins was selected to carry out the audit for the school system.

“They audit 40 school systems, including more schools in Georgia than any other firm. They also audit 53 counties including more counties in Georgia than any other firm, and they audit 112 cities including more cities in Georgia than any other firm,” Holloway said explaining the reason for choosing Mauldin and Jenkins and added, “We felt they were solid.”

The audit’s purpose was to find out if the Fannin County School System was meeting 3 requirements:

  • 1. Provide a goal that ensures tax funds are spent efficiently and economically, so that the school district receives the maximum benefit from dollars collected.
  • 2. Provide reports not less than once annually to ensure that the terms laid out in item 1 are being met.
  • 3. Provide for periodic public recommendations not less than once annually for improvements in meeting the goal specified in item 1.

Mauldin and Jenkins tested approximately 60 claims. These claims accounted for $1,027,970 or 15.3 percent of total disbursements for the year.
Holloway announced the findings of the audit saying that Mauldin and Jenkins “concluded that the Fannin County School District’s SPLOST is operating in compliance with all laws and regulations, the referendum approved by the county citizens and industry best practices.”

Special recognition was given to Director of Maintenance and Facilities Danny Shinpaugh by the auditing firm for his role in providing the BOE with continuous and thorough updates regarding construction projects relating to school properties.

Having looked into the bidding and decision making processes involved, focusing on the recently constructed Agricultural Center, along with negotiations that had been made, Mauldin and Jenkins also recognized Shinpaugh’s outstanding management in overseeing construction projects.

“It was a very fair process,” Holloway said of the manner in which the audit was performed and gave special credit to her team in the finance department for the hard work and many hours they put in all year: “There’s a lot of times they’re the first ones here and the last ones to leave and they’re willing to dig in.”

“With the Superintendent and the Board’s support I have been able to hand pick these awesome ladies. I appreciate you for that,” Holloway said expressing thanks for all her fellow coworkers.

Dr. Gwatney shared his thoughts on the findings of the SPLOST audit: “It’s comforting to have the reassurance of an external audit to show that these funds that are being collected are being utilized legally, properly, ethically and in the manner that matches the referendum.”

The Fannin County School System is now hoping that the residents of Fannin County will continue the district’s success and provide the school system with a continuation of collections for SPLOST.

With the SPLOST IV referendum allowing the school system to collect but not exceed $27.5 million by March 2021, projections are indicating that this goal will be met before the ability to collect SPLOST funds expires.

It is the hopes of the BOE and fellow faculty with in the Fannin County School System that the public will allow for a continuation of this collection with the increased cap amount to be $34.5 million.

A Special Election will be held on Tuesday, March 19 for the approval of the SPLOST V referendum and Early Voting is taking place now. If passed the new referendum would allow FCSS to move the cap of SPLOST funds to $34.5 million.

 

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 [email protected]

Fannin County opens door for competition in waste removal pricing

Business, Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Fannin County Board of Commissioners (BOC) began the process of opening up the way for competition when it comes to waste removal in the county.

Recent commission meetings showed much discussion about the current contract with Advanced Disposal. The contract set to expire on Sept. 1 of this year, requires the BOC give at least 180 day notice if there is intent to amend or cease further business with the company.

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson expressed his disappoint with the company’s automatic 3 percent increase in price annually and said, “We’re where we’re at because there’s one company. You can’t get a competing price when no one else will bid.”

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johsnon, Glenn Patterson, Advanced Disposal, Tony Sidebotham, Operations Manager, Contract, Renewal, Glass Recycling, Competition, Attorney, Lynn Doss

Board of Commissioners speak with attorney Lynn Doss about opening the door to competition.

All board members did recognize the asset Advanced Disposal has become to Fannin County through their community partnerships and participation.
“The intent is not to get rid of ADS. We still need them as an operator in our county,” Chairman Stan Helton spoke of the intentions behind the contract discussions.

Helton added that the BOC intentions were “to introduce competition, someone that can do the job, that would have a transfer station, and see if we (BOC) could open the door up for them to at least quote, bid, or prove to us that they would be a viable alternative, another resource for the county.”

An individual has come forward and spoken with commissioners about the possibility to offering their services to the county. Helton had a meeting with the individual that he referred to as being “positive”.

“This is a gentleman that has an interest in serving the community and he’s got equipment and a transfer station that would be available,” Helton said explaining the meeting and pointed out that the services the individual could provide would be on a much smaller scale than Advanced Disposal.

Post 2 Commissioner Glenn Patterson shared his thoughts that “competition’s always good”.

Previously Fannin County was under consent and by court order could only allow for one solid waste transfer station to operate. This order has since expired.

Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss told the BOC that she would review the consent order and work towards allowing for the county to have more than one solid waste transfer station and recommended that the BOC develop a pricing template for waste removal before seeking bids.

Johnson added to this that the county needs a set of requirements, above the already mandated state requirements, to ensure that companies operating in the county are permitted by the state and capable of delivering the results that are agreed upon.

Helton reiterated that he is not in favor of eliminating Advanced Disposal’s services as the county’s primary supplier and added that he didn’t feel that anyone at this time is in a position to take the place of Advanced Disposal.

“We felt if there was some way to open up a little bit of competition, perhaps that would be the favorable result for the county,” Helton explained that perhaps in years to come that a door would open to receive numerous bids.

Johnson spoke of Advance Disposal, “Advanced, as far as I know, they handle all of the garbage the county has right now. They do a good job of it,” but added that his goal is to stabilize costs: “I think we should look at every route to try to reduce our prices.”

No official vote was needed in the matter and with all three commissioners in agreement about saving the residents of Fannin County money, they gave the go ahead to Doss to notify Advanced Disposal of their intent to negotiate the upcoming contract.

 

 

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 [email protected]

Fannin County Schools will seek SPLOST continuation

Community, News, Rebel's Corner
Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Education, GEMA, FEMA, Michael Ruple, EMA Director Robert Graham, Lt. Darvin Couch

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Fannin County Board of Education (BOE) has voted in favor of the continuation of collections for SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) and now they hope the public will do the same.

SPLOST has helped in the funding of several projects within the Fannin County School System (FCSS). Some of the more recent notable projects include the construction of the Agricultural Building located off of Windy Ridge Road and the technology upgrades seen throughout the FCSS campuses.

Blue Ridge, Board of Education, Fannin County School System, Fannin County Superintendent, Dr. Michael Gwatney, Fannin County, Georgia, Terry Bramlett, Finance Director, Susan Holloway, Director of Planning, Policy, & Curriculum, Darren Danner, Lynn Doss,  Raymond James and Associates, Gray Pannell and Woodward LLP, Mary Ann Conner, Chuck Cook, Fannin County Elections and Registration, SPLOST IV, SPLOST V, Special Election, March 19, 2019

The new Agricultural Center located off of Windy Ridge Road is a direct result of Fannin County SPLOST collections.

“That’s where I feel like we are being good stewards of our taxpayer dollars,” FCSS Finance Director Susan Holloway addressed the BOE concerning SPLOST funds, “Because what we have is aged facilities, but we are doing, I think, an excellent job of maintaining and keeping them in top notch shape.”

The latest SPLOST update for Nov. 2018 in the amount of $500,946.90 shows that collections in the account are following an increasing trend.
With the SPLOST IV referendum allowing the school system to collect but not exceed $27.5 million by March 2021, projections are indicating that this goal will be met before the ability to collect SPLOST funds expires.

Holloway explains, “We’re in our SPLOST IV referendum and that referendum is for $27,500,000.00. The collections for this referendum began in April of 2016. It ends in March of 2021. A SPLOSTt referendum runs for 5 years. If we stay on this path that we are on we are probably going to cap out at that $27.5 million before we get to that date.”

It is the hopes of the BOE and fellow faculty with in the FCSS that the public will allow for a continuation of this collection with the increased cap amount to be $34.5 million.

The school system has worked closely with local council Lynn Doss, Raymond James and Associates, Gray Pannell and Woodward LLP, and Mary Ann Conner and Chuck Cook with the Fannin County Elections and Registration Office to have an SPLOST referendum added as a Special Election in 2019.

Based on projections from Gray Pannell and Woodward LLP, the FCSS is asking for the increased amount of $34.5 million. Holloway explains the number, “We should not cap out on this one. Hopefully in five years we’ll get the life out of this SPLOST.”

Along with the additional requested SPLOST collections, the BOE discussed preapproval of bonding $14 million for emergency purposes.
“The Board of Education utilizes bonding not to complete projects, but as emergency funding,” Fannin County School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney clarified the discussion for the preapproval.

School Board Member Terry Bramlett expanded on the subject, “We’re simply reserving the right to do that (obtain a bond) should we have an emergency, because there would be interest related to a bonded portion of the money. All efforts would be exhausted not to do that.”

What will the Fannin County School System use SPLOST collections for? According the new referendum the purpose of these funds will be allocated in the following areas:

  • A) adding to, renovating, repairing, improving, equipping, and demolishing existing school buildings, school system facilities, parking lots and driveways, physical education/athletic facilities and fields;
  • B) updating and purchasing HVAC systems, system technology, electrical systems, nutritional equipment and electronic communications systems;
  • C) acquiring new computer hardware, technology equipment, safety and security equipment, and software;
  • D) acquiring miscellaneous new equipment, fixtures, and furnishings for the school district;
  • E) acquiring school buses and other vehicles, transportation and maintenance equipment and facilities;
  • F) acquiring, constructing and equipping new buildings and facilities useful and desirable, including but not limited to, a new          STEM/Science wing at Fannin County Middle School, a new Health and Wellness Multipurpose Facility; a new professional development facility;
  • G) acquiring and/or improving land for school system facilities;
  • H) purchasing traditional and electronic textbooks, purchase new and upgrades to print and electronic media collections

The new projected STEM/Science wing at Fannin County Middle School, along with the new projected Health and Wellness Multipurpose Facility at Fannin County High School were highlighted as projects of the SPLOST V referendum.

According to Bramlett SPLOST “allows people who visit our fair country to participate rather than having to rely solely on the property owners.”

Attorney Lynn Doss backed up this statement saying that statistically between 54 -70 percent of SPLOST collections in Fannin County comes from visitors.

Director of Planning, Policy, & Curriculum Darren Danner spoke of the SPLOST V referendum: “This is not an additional tax. This is a continuation of SPLOST IV. If we meet that threshold before March of 2021,” adding, “If Fannin County voters approve this it will kick in immediately.”

Gwatney summed up the feelings of the BOE with a simple statement: “Thankful for SPLOST.”

A Special Election will be held on Tuesday, March 19 for the approval of the SPLOST V referendum, allowing FCSS to move the cap of SPLOST funds to $34.5 million. This referendum is expected to be the only item on the ballot.

 

 

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 [email protected]

Completion of fire station halted

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – For now construction on the new emergency center / fire station located off of Windy Ridge Road in Blue Ridge will come to a halt. Plans to finish the current construction and move emergency personnel in will continue but a portion of the building that was not deemed to be finished in the current phase will remain undone for the time being.

At the Oct. 9 Fannin County Board of Commissioners meeting unexpected high bids were received for the completion of the project.

Fannin County Emergency Management Director Robert Graham explained that the completion of this particular area of the facility was not necessary for the building itself to be a functional space for emergency management staff.

The main purpose of the incomplete area will be for training and living quarters.

Graham reached out to 25 contractors in hopes of finding a winning bidder to complete the project. Local contractors were included in this list of 25, but no local companies opted to bid.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Fannin County Attorney, Lynn Doss, Emergency Management Agency, Director, Robert Graham, Fire Station, Windy Ridge, Egineered Structures Inc., JM Williams Contractors

An interior picture of the new emergency center during construction.

Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss opened two sealed bids at the meeting.

The first bid came from Engineered Structures, Inc. of Kennesaw, Ga. in the amount of $486,460, and the second bid came from JM Williams Contractors of Marietta, Ga. in the amount of $439,927.

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson was first to express his opinion after a lengthy silence from all the commissioners: “I think it’s way too much money.”

“I feel like that’s really high,” Graham said agreeing with Johnson and adding, “I don’t know what happened between now and last year. That’s almost double what we started out at.”

Graham said this referring to a quote that was given previously for the completion of the area that was substantially less than either of the two new bids.

County Chairman Stan Helton, agreeing with opinions expressed by Johnson and Graham, questioned Graham if any issues, either from safety or structure, would arise by not completing this particular section at the present time.

Graham responded that there would be a need to heat the space in cold temperatures due to the sprinkler system in that area already being live and functioning.

Johnson clarified that the sprinkler system was a wet system: “The lines on a wet system are charged with water at all times and in a dry system they are only charged once needed.”

Graham suggested heating the area with a propane heater, possibly a hanging heater, and that there would be no safety issues in doing so as long as the heater had proper ventilation.

“I’m disappointed that we couldn’t get a more favorable bid on this,” Helton concluded.

Johnson motioned,” I make the motion that we deny both bids due to the extreme cost.”

This motion passed unanimously.

With the area partially complete, Johnson made a last suggestion of looking into the cost of piecemealing the project out to specialized contractors in hopes cutting costs and also encouraging local businesses to bid on the process.

Specific areas mentioned that would need completion include sheetrock, flooring, heating and air, plumbing and electrical.

 

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 [email protected]

Discussions continue over Board of Education $250,000 land purchase

News, Rebel's Corner

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – After news spread of the Fannin County Board of Education’s recent approval to purchase one acre of land on Highway 515 for a price tag of $250,000, citizens questioned the necessity of this purchase and inquired about the legalities of its use.

Fannin County School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney, along with Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss and Fannin County School System’s Director of Facilities and Maintenance Danny Shinpaugh, sat down with FetchYourNews to answer questions and address concerns over this purchase.

This one-acre plot of land, which will serve as a connector to the school system’s new agricultural development positioned off of Ada Street, is located along Highway 515 between Windy Ridge Road and Josh Hall Road.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County School System, Board of Education, Superintendent, Dr. Michael Gwatney, Fannin County Attorney, Lynn Doss, Director of Facilities and Maintenance, Danny Shinpaugh, Agricultural Department, Ada Street, Highway 515, Windy Ridge Road, Property Purchase, $250,000, Georgia Department of Transportation, GDOT

Main entrance to agricultural campus will be shared with Fannin County’s new fire station and E-911 center.

Doss explained that the 31 acres off of Ada Street has been under the ownership of the Fannin County School System for many years: “The school system has owned that property for about 15 years.”

According to Doss, the Ada Street land was originally purchased in 2006 with plans to build a new school if the need arose. The land itself was centrally enough located and met state requirements at that time for a new school.

Since the need for a new school never came to pass, the school system, over the years, have looked at a number of ways in which to utilize this property and, in recent years, decided that it would be ideal for an agricultural facility.

The property currently has an entrance/exit along Ada Street, but Gwatney pointed out that it would be used very minimally and primarily in the event of an emergency.

The property’s main point of access is along the Windy Ridge Connector, where the school system has partnered with Fannin County, and a roadway will be shared with the new fire station and allow access to the agricultural facility.

Questions arose about the need for the acre of land located on Highway 515 and the logistics of its use after Gwatney released a statement explaining the purchase.

In the statement, Gwatney said, “If you hear that our school system paid $250,000 for an acre of property, it is true; however, there is more that you need to know about this purchase, and I want you to have the facts.”

Gwatney also pointed out in the same statement that district personnel, including himself, has already met with the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), and it has been determined that a deceleration lane may be placed ahead of the existing entrance to the property on Hwy. 515.

No official approval has been granted to the school system to make changes to the property in the GDOT right of way, but a GDOT representative did confirm with school officials that these changes were possible.

Gwatney clarified about circumstances of the possible deceleration lane: “We just wanted to make sure whether it was feasible, and that’s what we talked to GDOT about.”

In order for any improvements to be made to the entrance of the property, including a deceleration or an acceleration lane, permission would have to be granted from GDOT and special permits would need to be obtained by the Fannin County School System.

Fannin County School System’s Director of Facilities and Maintenance Danny Shinpaugh confirmed that any of these improvements would have to be carried out by GDOT-approved contractors and engineers and meet GDOT-approved standards and plans.

According to the GDOT Regulations for Driveway and Encroachment Control, a right turn lane may be required of the school system in order to use this property as an entrance: “Right turn deceleration lane must be constructed at no cost to the Department if the daily site generated Right Turn Volumes (RTV) based on ITE Trip Generation (assuming a reasonable distribution of entry volumes) meet or exceed” 50 right turns into the property daily.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County School System, Board of Education, Superintendent, Dr. Michael Gwatney, Fannin County Attorney, Lynn Doss, Director of Facilities and Maintenance, Danny Shinpaugh, Agricultural Department, Ada Street, Highway 515, Windy Ridge Road, Property Purchase, $250,000, Georgia Department of Transportation, GDOT

Ownership and maintaining of a deceleration lane after completion is also described in the GDOT regulations as: “The R/W for accel/decel lanes may be dedicated in fee simple to the Department for the Department to maintain or the applicant must sign an agreement with the Department to maintain the lane to the Department’s standards and to hold harmless the Department in the event that section of roadway is identified in any liability action.”

While the addition of the deceleration lane could be an expensive venture for the school system, Gwatney stated that there are currently no plans to implement the right turn lane, and the main reason for the purchase of the property was for direct Hwy. 515 access and to allow for a variety of options in traffic control onto and off of the land.

“We would have acquired this property without that (deceleration lane),” Gwatney said, explaining the school system’s stance on the purchase. “It wouldn’t be near the worth if we couldn’t do that.”

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County School System, Board of Education, Superintendent, Dr. Michael Gwatney, Fannin County Attorney, Lynn Doss, Director of Facilities and Maintenance, Danny Shinpaugh, Agricultural Department, Ada Street, Highway 515, Windy Ridge Road, Property Purchase, $250,000, Georgia Department of Transportation, GDOT

Site where possible future deceleration/acceleration lanes would be placed.

A question also arose pertaining to whether the property’s existing entrance was already zoned for commercial use, as getting a commercial entrance onto Hwy. 515 could be difficult and costly.

According to the GDOT regulations, in the case of Non-commercial Driveways “a driveway serving a school, government building, church, hospital or other non-commercial organization inviting public use. Design guidelines relating to commercial driveways will be applicable to driveways serving these land uses.”

However, Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss said that this is not a concern for this project: “It’s not a thing where we are because we’re outside of the city limits. In the county, we don’t have zoning, so we have no commercial, residential or industrial.”

While the plans for the one-acre tract are yet to be determined, Gwatney suggested some possible uses. The land could serve as an exit from the facility for southbound traffic turning right onto Hwy. 515, and the main entrance off of Windy Ridge Connector would serve as an exit for northbound traffic allowing this traffic access to a traffic light in order to turn left onto Hwy. 515.

Another plus noted by both Gwatney and Shinpaugh in relation to purchasing this land is the use of the existing buildings on the property.

“The school system is always hurting for storage,” Shinpaugh noted.

The property currently has 18 storage units, all of which have the space to house large equipment. These buildings will be put to use by the school system.

As for the purchase of this tract, Gwatney explained that it was not needed for the land’s original purpose in 2006, but as the purpose of the land changed, so did the needs to accommodate the facility: “It makes our existing project better.”

The new agricultural facility is expected to be completed by June 30 of this year.

[Featured Image: Entrance onto recently purchased property from Highway 515. According to Doss, this entrance will not require a commercial zoning permit.]

 

 

 

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 [email protected]

Fannin County enters into opioid litigation

Community, News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Fannin County Board of Commissioners (BOC) voted to enter into litigation involving opioids and the impact that these drugs have on Fannin County.

At the Feb. 13 BOC meeting, Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss presented a proposal that the county be represented in a legal case involving pharmaceutical companies and their distributors.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Geoorgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post One Commissioner, Post Two Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Fannin County Attorney, Lynn Doss, Opioid Litigation, Opioid Crisis, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC

Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee signs a contract to enter into litigation regarding the opioid epidemic that has hit Fannin County.

“There has been similar litigation about other drugs in the past,” Doss explained, citing the settlements reached from tobacco companies in the late 1990s.

On Oct. 27, 2017, the state of Georgia acknowledged the opioid crisis as a public health emergency. Between June 2016 and May 2017, opioid doses prescribed in Georgia reached a soaring 541 million. That roughly breaks down to 54 doses for every man, woman and child in the state.
“It’s real. It’s here in Fannin County,” Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton spoke of the need for the county to acknowledge and address this ongoing epidemic.

The statistics for Fannin County are even higher than that of the state average. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prescribing rate in Fannin County for 2016 was 154.3 doses per 100 people.

The national prescribing rate in 2016 was 66.5 doses per 100 people, and the rate for the state of Georgia was 77.8 per 100 people.

Fannin County also saw five deaths due to overdose in 2016.

“In this county, if you take law enforcement, the jail, you take the court system, this county puts in over five million dollars a year in all those different segments,” Helton said of areas in our county where taxpayers can directly see a loss due to this ongoing crisis.

Doss shared information with the board on how the litigation will work: “It is being done directly by the counties instead of by the states. Any settlement comes directly to the county.”

Marc J. Bern and Partners, LLP will be representing the county in this suit. The agreement of the contract with this firm is that they will provide all upfront costs and would receive 25 percent of any settlement that Fannin County is awarded.

“There is absolutely no money out of pocket for Fannin County,” Doss assured the board.

“This is personal for me,” Fannin County Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson said, expressing his thoughts on the crisis itself. Johnson stated it is not uncommon for workers in the construction industry to be prescribed opioids due to injury from accident.

Mentioning that he has personally witnessed some hard workers succumb to addiction, Johnson added, “It’s just a shame to see what it does to people’s lives.”

Fannin County Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee motioned that the county enter into litigation concerning the opioid impact on our area, with Johnson seconding Sosebee’s motion. The board voted unanimously in favor of moving forward.

Doss could not give an exact timeline, but estimated that if the suit were successful, Fannin County could start recouping monies lost in two to three years.

 

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 [email protected]

BOC takes steps to improve Lake Blue Ridge Hiking Trail

News, Parks and Recreation

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Fannin County could see improvements to local hiking trails. At the Nov. 28 Board of Commissioners (BOC) meeting, commissioners took steps to help secure funding for the Lake Blue Ridge Hiking Trail.

This area includes the Green Creek Campground. “It’s a beautiful little area, but it hasn’t been utilized in quite some time,” Fannin County BOC Chairman Stan Helton remarked.

Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Post One Commissioner, Post Two Commissioner, Chairman, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Finance Director, Robin Gazaway, Parks and Recreation, Eddie O'Neal, Development Authority, Lake Blue Ridge Hiking Trail, Green Creek Campground, SPLOST, General Fund, Hotel/Motel Tax, Fannin County Attorney, Lynn Doss, Coca-Cola

A view from Lake Blue Ridge Hiking Trail.

“The Development Authority has been working on an arrangement with the Forest Service where we would improve areas, the trailheads, make some ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessibility along this trail,” Helton explained.

Helton went on to say, “This is a recreational trail grant. It is the second one we’ve actually applied for in the county. Maybe that will increase our odds of getting at least one of them.”

If obtained, the county would have to finance the projects up to $200,000. The grant would then make reimbursements to the county for 80 percent of funds spent.

The commissioners unanimously agreed to sign a resolution, which will allow the Development Authority to move forward with the application process to acquire grant money for improvements to the Lake Blue Ridge trail.

Director of Fannin County Parks and Recreation Eddie O’Neal was present at the meeting to submit a five-year contract renewal to the commissioners. This contract renewal would make Coca-Cola the exclusive provider of beverages for Fannin County concessions.

Describing the contract, O’Neal said, “It is just a basic beverage agreement, to re-up our contract with Coca-Cola. They will be basically your sole provider … to continue their service and delivery they provide to us for all the concessions.”

Coca-Cola recently reinstated a program to provide scoreboards for counties who choose Coca-Cola as their main supplier. In the contract renewal, Coca-Cola will provide Fannin County with three new LED scoreboards.

O’Neal informed commissioners that installation would be the only cost to the county. Helton questioned, “And they will do maintenance repairs on the scoreboards for us?”

Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Post One Commissioner, Post Two Commissioner, Chairman, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Finance Director, Robin Gazaway, Parks and Recreation, Eddie O'Neal, Development Authority, Lake Blue Ridge Hiking Trail, Green Creek Campground, SPLOST, General Fund, Hotel/Motel Tax, Fannin County Attorney, Lynn Doss, Coca-Cola

Eddie O’Neal discusses renewal of Coca-Cola contract with BOC.

To this, O’Neal responded that Coca-Cola would indeed be responsible for repairs. Two of these scoreboards will be delivered in 2018, and the third will come in 2019.

Before signing the contract Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson discussed the possibility of price increases with the contract and asked O’Neal, “So this is a set price throughout the remainder of the contract?”

O’Neal explained that Coca-Cola had the option of increasing the price by three percent each year, but could not go over that percentage. BOC Chairman Stan Helton motioned to sign the contract, Johnson seconded the motion and all three commissioners approved the renewal of the Coca-Cola contract with the county.

Christmas bonuses for county employees were also approved. Helton and Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee discussed staying with tradition and approving $100 bonuses for all county employees.

Helton asked Johnson for his input on the bonuses to which Johnson replied, “I’m not going to be Ebenezer.” The bonuses were unanimously approved by the board.

Finance Director Robin Gazaway sought approval for the opening of two new bank accounts to earmark certain percentages of SPLOST funds for specific projects.

Gazaway stated, “I wanted to separate the money for each of the different (projects). Right now we have the roads and bridges, and we have the capital improvements. This new one we are going have roads and bridges, capital improvements, recreation department, and the admin(istration) parking deck.”

Sosebee pointed out that separating the accounts would be a positive step and would make for “more accountability.”

Discussion of these accounts lead Johnson to bring forward a long standing issue he has had with the hotel/motel tax being deposited into the general fund.

Johnson would like to be able to present the public with a more accurate account of where this money is being spent. All commissioners agreed this is an issue that should be addressed and would like to discuss setting up a public workshop on the matter in early 2018.

Johnson also took time at the end of the meeting to discuss items brought up at the Nov. 14 BOC meeting. He questioned when the commissioners would address whether or not County Attorney Lynn Doss would represent the entire board or would continue to only represent the BOC Chairman.

Sosebee felt that this matter would be better resolved if addressed after the passing of the 2018 Budget and after the holidays. Sosebee and Johnson agreed to revisit the issue in the beginning of the new year.

 

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 [email protected]

JQC Dismisses all Claims against Judge Brenda Weaver

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“No evidence has been presented to show any violation of code of Judicial Ethics by Judge Weaver. Instead, the evidence appears to show a personal dislike of the Judge.”

Last week the Georgia Judicial Qualification Commission dismissed the complaint against Appalachian Judicial District Chief Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver. 

Judge Brenda Weaver

“The complaint of Thomason, Stookey, Doss and the GCSPJ are without any basis in law or fact. The complaints are nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to enlist the JQC in their fixation upon harming Judge Weaver. The JQC will have no further part in it. All complaints are hereby dismissed.”

The complaint was submitted to the JQC by Mark Thomason, former publisher of the Fannin Focus, his attorney Russell Stookey and Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss.

In the JQC conclusions they addressed the Georgia Chapters Society of Professionals Journalist complaint that Weaver mounted an attack on freedom of the press.

“Calling oneself a “journalist” and “reporter” should not be a cover for pursuing personal vendettas.”

Stookey and Thomason with the assistance of Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss raised a complaint to the FBI to initiate an investigation.   

JQC, “The FBI investigated the allegations raised by Stookey and Thomason but found no wrongdoing.”

On June 15th Atlanta Attorney Gerry Weber, representing Russell Stookey and Mark Thomason, sent a demand letter and Ante Litem Notice to Judge Brenda Weaver, District Attorney B. Alison Sosebee and Pickens County Board of Commissioners.

Part of Weber’s summary of claim, “This case has already garnered national attention. It involves breathtaking abuse of power by a Judge, prosecutor, and law enforcement who manipulated the criminal justice system to wage a personal vendetta against a local newspaper publisher and his attorney.”

Weber’s claim for damages conclusion, “Further accounting for damages stemming from the emotional distress in false arrest and malicious prosecution and for the punitive damages due to egregiousness of the actions leading to the arrests, Stookey’s and Thomason’s damages exceed 1,000,000.”

How far will this case go considering the FBI and JQC have closed their investigation both dismissing the possible charge of wrongdoing.

Click to read “Fannin Focus Publisher Mark Thomason Arrested, Journalist or Vendetta?

 

Fannin County Opts for Online Bidding

News
Fannin Court House

BLUE RIDGE, GA – Fannin County Commission Chairman Stan Helton and Public Works Director Zach Ratcliff discussed the possibility of updating the county’s legislation.

Current county codes only allow for used county equipment to be sold through local resources. The equipment must be posted in a local newspaper for two weeks and then a bidding process is open to the public.

Helton and Ratcliff felt that an amendment of this legislation to include the wording “and/or….” with the option of putting the equipment on online auction websites would help the county to expedite sales and open up the process to more bidders.

Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Public Works Director, Zach Ratcliff. County Attorney, Lynn Doss

Helton and Ratcliff propose amendment to bidding process.

Helton said, “The process we have now is pretty cumbersome.” He went on, “This is a chance to get us out of, for lack of a better term, the horse and buggy days of auction and get in on something that is more intune with what is happening in the U.S. marketplace.”

County Attorney Lynn Doss stated that much has changed since this legislation was written, and that people look to the internet for their needs. She felt this change did not take away anything from the legislation, but added more options for our county.

County Post Commissioner Earl Johnson showed reluctance as he said, “I have bad memories of going into local legislation. So, I would rather not go into it just to sell equipment or change one word. That’s my only reservation.”

Johnson and County Post Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee were very thorough in their questions, wanting to make sure that this amendment would achieve what Helton and Ratcliff were proposing as well as be a long term solution.

Johnson proposed the term “competitive bid process,” as this would also give the county the option of live, real time auctions and not restrict the process to online.

Doss considered all the concerns and information that was given before drafting an amendment to the legislation. She also suggested that while they were adding this amendment that it might be a good time to look at another wording change that would allow for more flexibility in the passing of the county’s annual budget.

Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Public Works Director, Zach Ratcliff. County Attorney, Lynn Doss

Commissioners debate admending county legislation.

The current legislation states that the commissioners must adopt the county budget at the first public meeting in December.

Doss recommended changing the wording to “adopting the budget by the first public meeting in December.” She said this would give the Commissioner’s the option of approving the budget in advance of the schedule.

Doss drafted both the amendment to the sale of county equipment as well as the change in wording to the budget legislation.

After much discussion, all three commissioners voted to pass these changes as they felt it would streamline county business as well as open up options previously unavailable.
These changes will be discussed and voted upon again at the next two public meetings.

GMFTO

Stan Helton will be sworn in Friday at 2 P.M. He will then be officially the Chairman Commissioner of Fannin County. On Wednesday Helton and Post Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee requested Rita Davis Kirby resignation. Kirby holds two county positions, CFO and Clerk. Kirby was told that if she did not resign that they would terminate her in January. Fannin County is required to vote to dismiss department heads so Helton and Sosebee where showing Kirby they have the votes.

I spoke with Helton concerning his request for Kirby’s resignation. Helton did not give me any specific reason just that he was putting his administration’s team together and Kirby would not be a part of the team. I then asked about the County Attorney Lynn Doss. Would he address the conflict with her representing different offices in the county along with her itemizing her monthly bill. Doss receives $5,700 a month for her services as county attorney no questions asked. No one can even tell me who set the amount. Helton told me “We have a good county attorney and I am satisfied with her.”
Kirby’s husband is the newly re-elected Sheriff Dane Kirby. Just say’in! Listen to my full report for more details. #BKP

Fannin’s Troubles, Who lit the candle? Pt 4

GMFTO

Part 4 of our series on Fannin County, Brenda Weavers Resignation from the JQC, and the litigation of Mark Thomason.

Fannin’s Troubles, Who lit the candle? Pt. 2

GMFTO

Part 2 of our series on Fannin County, Brenda Weavers Resignation from the JQC, and the litigation of Mark Thomason.

Fannin’s Troubles, Who lit the candle?

GMFTO

BKP dives deep into Fannin County, it’s attorney, the recent Court Cases, and Brenda Weaver’s resignation from the Judicial Qualifications Commission. BKP walks you through County Expenses to see the spark that lit the candle.

FBI Investigation? Fannin County House of Cards

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“Some would rather climb a tree to tell a lie than stand on the ground and tell the truth” BKP

Monday afternoon July 18th in a Pickens County Courtroom Senior Judge Richard Winegarden signed the nolle prosequi orders dropping the charges against Fannin Focus publisher Mark Thomason and Attorney Russell Stookey.

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

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

When the charges were dropped that made the file concerning this case open for the public to view, FYN spent Friday afternoon thoroughly reviewing the file.  I listened to the witness interviews several times.

Immediately after the court adjourned Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss did an interview with Channel 2’s Mark Winne.  (Doss interview with Mark Winne.)  She told Winne she has spoken with the FBI three times since March.

Mark Thomason, Russell Stookey, Lynn Doss, and Fannin Probate Judge Scott Kiker have made claims that there is currently an FBI investigation into Judge Brenda Weaver and Judge Roger Bradley.  Thomason, Stookey, and Doss have made the same claims concerning the FBI during interviews.  Witness interviews claim Kiker told them about the FBI investigation in detail.

Throughout the DA’s investigation one name kept coming up, County Attorney Lynn Doss. It is common knowledge in the Appalachian Judicial District that Doss does not care very much for Judge Roger Bradley.  I stated in a previous article a comment Doss made to me regarding her feelings for Bradley.

Doss serves as the Attorney for Fannin County, Fannin County Water Authority, and the Fannin County Board of Education.  Her husband Harry Doss is the Fannin County Juvenile Public Defender and the Fannin County Probate Judge Public Defender. The Doss’s have received a lot of money for several years from Fannin County taxpayers.  Side note, FYN has researched Doss and Kiker court cases from Cobb to Towns Counties and have found several cases where Lynn Doss and Scott Kiker are co-counsel.  See any conflict with that?  Doss is public defender in Kiker’s courtroom.  Also what happened to the promise Kiker made the voters of Fannin County that he would be a full-time Probate Judge?  Far from it, Kiker has private cases in several counties. And that is a story for another day.

Lynn Doss thoroughly understands attorney/client privilege so why would she risk losing a client like Fannin County Board of Commissioners who pays her $5,708 per month, $68,496 a year?  I asked Chairman Bill Simonds if he knew that Fannin County was being investigated by the FBI and also if he knew Doss was speaking to the FBI? Simonds told us he just found out in the last couple of weeks and was not aware of any conversations Doss was having or may have had with the FBI.

Remember the checks from the Judge’s account which Thomason claimed appeared to have been illegally cashed?  Who gave the checks to Stookey or Thomason?  During an interview with DA Investigator Greg Arp, Simonds told Arp he understood that Doss said she thought the FBI would be contacting her and so Doss wanted the checks.  Simonds went on to say, his understanding was that Doss gave the checks to Stookey who in turn gave them to Thomason.  

So if Doss told Simonds about the FBI possibly contacting her why did she not come back to her client (Fannin County) and confirm her involvement with the FBI investigation once she was actually contacted?

Investigator Arp asked Simonds if Doss ever admitted to him who she gave the checks to?  Simonds replied “Oh Yeah!  She gave the checks to this Stookey guy. She is the county attorney.  She has no F****** business giving checks out to nobody especially another attorney.  She said ‘I do that all the time, I give out numbers.’  Simonds said, ‘Lynn this is a lot different than a F****** telephone number, this ain’t no telephone number.’  She lied about it.  I think this is a d*** vendetta.  Lynn is vindictive.”

The DA’s investigators Greg Arp and Christy O’Dell interviewed Rita Davis Kirby.  Kirby is Fannin County’s CFO.  Kirby told investigators that she gave the check in question to Doss and only Doss.  

“She is the only one who had the checks. The only person who had copies of those checks.  It’s obvious that Lynn is the only one with copies of the checks from Fannin County.  If Mark Thomason has a copy of them it came to him from Lynn Doss.  In March Lynn comes in and asks me for a copy of the third quarter, second, third and fourth quarter of 2015 and the first quarter of 2016 of Judge Bradley’s checks.  She said I have gotten word the FBI is going to be looking into this and they will probably call me so if you will just go ahead and get those for me I will have them when they contact me.  I got her the copies and sent them to her. She sent me an email and said could I go ahead and give her the other two judges just for the sake of not singling any one judge out. Something to that effect.  She emailed me. Kirby said Doss never came back and said anything about the FBI investigation. “

Kirby was asked if the FBI had made any requests to the commissioner’s office?

“No, and that is what’s strange to me as well.”

Kirby recounted a meeting with investigators between Doss, Simonds, and herself concerning who Doss gave the checks to and how she knew they had been cashed. “ When Bill got a copy of the Open Records Request that Thomason sent Chairman Rob Jones in Pickens County, Lynn came in and was in Bill’s office.  Kirby went into Bill’s office and sat down.  Lynn read a copy of the email and told Bill she needed to talk to him about this.  She needed to explain.  She said this is crazy (Lynn), I could kill Mark Thomason (jokingly).  All I know about this is ‘Mark Thomason received copies of these checks from Rita,’ and I (Kirby) stopped her.   I said “No, Lynn, No he didn’t.”   “I thought I had given him those checks but I didn’t.  I went back to verify that.  I did not give those checks to Mark Thomason, you are the only one I gave those checks too. She said (Lynn) I’m not sure how he got them.”

The reasoning behind the investigation is there is a problem about ‘if’ the checks have been cashed and they’re not supposed to be cashed.  Lynn said on the back of the check in the upper left hand corner on Judge Bradley’s checks there are numbers that go across and we understand and were told it was a teller override. (Rita said) I told her that was not a teller override and Lynn said, I spoke to Ruth Jordan and she told me that it was a teller override.

Kirby said she was in the room when Simonds asked Doss who she gave the checks to. “Doss told Bill she gave the checks to Stookey who is Mark Thomason’s Attorney.  At that point Bill looked at her and said, “you did what?”  She said it’s open records and I gave them to Stookey.  She said it’s no different than me giving a phone number to an attorney without asking if she could give the number out.  Bill said that ain’t quite the same thing.”

Kirby implied throughout the interview that she feels that Doss shares county information with Thomason.

Did Ruth Jordan tell Lynn Doss that the checks appeared to have been cashed because of the numbers on the back of the check? Jordan is the Blue Ridge Branch Manager of Community & Southern Bank.

DA Investigators O’Dell and Arp interviewed Jordan. Jordan immediately let them know she could not answer questions for the bank but she could talk about procedural issues.

If we show you the back of the check could you tell us if it’s a teller override?

Jordan, “You would not be able to tell anything about the back of the check, I think that is the whole issue somebody doesn’t understand.”

So you couldn’t look at the back of the check and tell if it’s a teller override?

Jordan, “no,no.”

Jordan, “This is what I told everyone I did have a conversation with but I have not had a conversation with any attorney.”

So you haven’t talked with Miss Doss?

Jordan, “No.”

Jordan, “Concerning the back of the check in question, “this is a routing number, that is all that is.”

Investigator Odell, is there anything on the back of the check that you can tell that it’s been

cashed, deposited, whatever….?

Jordan,

“Absolutely not.”

Jordan,

 “Procedural-wise, as far as Community and Southern’s bank policy, a check like that should never be cashed. That’s a business check. It’s a business check. One person does not have ownership of that check. So that check should have been deposited.  Now, there is a For Deposit Only here. There is nothing on the back of this check that can tell you the check has been cashed, deposited, you can’t tell anything. There is nothing back there to tell that. It’s a routing number, branch number and teller number.”

Investigator, The only reason you are here is because your name specifically has come up as having a conversation with a certain attorney that has indicated that you were able to tell them from the back of that check. You have not had any conversation with Mrs. Doss regarding any of this?

Jordan, “No”

Any conversation with Mrs. Doss regarding teller overrides? “No”

Jordan, “I have not spoken to Lynn Doss.  I will not disclose anyone’s personal information. It’s not going to happen.”

When discussing the subpoena Jordan said, “I was shocked and amazed. I have never gotten a subpoena that was not served by an officer.  If a deputy would have showed up with that subpoena it would have been filled out by someone before they got here with it. Generally when I get one on something like that they serve notice and generally they want someone to sign showing I received it.  They were here literally wanting us to give them something and I’m like what, we don’t do that.  I don’t think they understood.  I was shocked that they had what looked like nearly a blank subpoena and I just said I don’t know anything about this.  I don’t know what you’re looking for.  You’re going to have to give me some information.”

Investigators showed Jordan the check that supposedly had been cashed illegally. Jordan said there was nothing on the check that indicated a teller override or that it had been cashed.

A check when deposited with a teller show the teller’s number so why not just go to the teller and ask if they cashed or deposited the check?

So why did Doss tell Simonds and Kirby that Jordan said the check appeared to be cashed? Who told Thomason the check appeared to be cashed?  Remember that is what Thomason said in the email he sent Pickens County Commissioner Rob Jones. The email to Jones was an for an open records request.  Who gave Thomason his information?

What about the FBI Investigation?   In one witness interview with “Mr. X” he tells Arp and O’Dell that there are two FBI agents doing the investigation. FYN has learned the name of one FBI Agent, Jamie Harter.

Mr. X told Arp and O’Dell the following:  Scott Kiker told me that a whistleblower came to Mark Thomason.  Kiker would never tell me who the whistleblower was.  Only thing Kiker told me was that the whistleblowers had been granted immunity from prosecution. There are two FBI agents.

Kiker said the reason he got involved was he and Thomason had to sign a paper before the FBI would investigate. They had to sign a paper saying that Mark had asked them to come up here.  Thomason told Kiker he was afraid to sign it without some legal representation so he requested Scott Kiker to be his legal representation and then he signed the thing and gave it back to the FBI.

So if Scott Kiker is Thomason’s legal counsel concerning the FBI investigation does he know who the whistleblower is?  Does he know whom the FBI offered immunity?  FYN has reached out to Lynn Doss and Scott Kiker with a list of questions.  At the time of this article they have not responded.  At the bottom of this article you will see a list of questions we have asked both Doss and Kiker.  We will post their answers as soon as they respond.

Remember the attempt to commit identity fraud in the indictment of Thomason.  We found something very interesting in the DA’s file.  It may be irrelevant but we feel it’s worth mentioning.

In this letter from Assistant District Attorney Chase G. Queen of the Enotah Judicial Circuit, Thomason may have committed identity fraud.

(Article continues under the letter)12ChristyLetter800Check back as this story continues to develop “Fannin County House of Cards.”

FYN would like to be clear regarding the allegations of “cashed checks” there hasn’t been any proof presented at this time which supports the claims of checks being cashed.

Below is the list of questions for Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss and Fannin County Probate Judge Scott Kiker.

Mr. Kiker,

I have reviewed the entire file including listening to all of the witness interviews in the case that was dropped last week against Mark Thomason and Russell Stookey.

  1. One witness stated that Thomason had to sign a form and send it back to the FBI before they would look into Thomason’s complaint. The witness stated that he (Thomason) brought the paperwork to you and I understand you signed as Thomason’s Attorney. Did you sign a document along with Mark Thomason that was sent back to the FBI?
  1. Have you spoken to or met with the FBI?
  1. Have you and Lynn Doss ever spoken with or met with the FBI together?
  1. Did Lynn Doss tell you she was speaking with the FBI? When was the first time you knew that Lynn Doss was involved with the FBI investigation?
  1. One witness said that you told him there was a whistleblower at UCBI and the FBI has granted this person immunity from prosecution. How are you aware of this information?  Who told you (Mark Thomason, Lynn Doss, FBI…)? Do you know the identity of the whistleblower?
  1. One witness said that when he confronted you about the whistleblower  and UCBI you said it was a rumor Mark Thomason started.  Is it a rumor?
  1. Did you represent Greg Joseph Staffins in a shoplifting case in Union County?
  1. Does the Fannin County Probate Court have or use investigators?
  1. Has Mark Thomason ever worked for the Probate Court as an investigator?
  1. Are you aware that allegedly Mark Thomason went into the Blairsville Wal-Mart and identified himself to Wal-Mart employee Jeff Griffin as an investigator for the Fannin County Probate Court specifically Judge Scott Kiker’s Investigator?
  1. According to Jeff Griffin, Thomason asked to see Wal-Mart case reports on the shoplifting case against Greg Joseph Staffins. Was your office ever contacted by the Union County DA’s office inquiring about Thomason’s relationship to the Probate Court and yourself?

Mrs. Doss,

I am working on an article concerning a possible FBI investigation you discussed in a recent interview.  I have listened to the witness interview from the Mark Thomason-Russell Stookey case and have several questions.

  1. You said you have communicated with the FBI 3 times. Were those phone conversations or meetings?
  2. Did you provide the FBI with any Fannin County documents?
  3. At any time did you make the Fannin County Chairman Bill Simonds aware of your involvement with an FBI investigation?
  4. Who (name) did you talk to at the FBI?
  5. Did you give the checks in question to Russell Stookey or Mark Thomason?
  6. Did you contact the FBI first?
  7. Did Ruth Jordan tell you the numbers on the check showed the checks had been cashed?
  8. Did you tell Chairman Simonds, with Rita Kirby present, that you gave the checks to Stookey and that Ruth Jordan told you the checks had an override number on them indicating they had been cashed?
  9. Did you tell Mark Thomason the checks appeared to have been cashed?
  10. Have you ever had a conversation with Scott Kiker concerning the FBI investigation in this matter?
  11. Has Scott Kiker or Mark Thomason shared with you the name of the whistleblower?
  12. Have you signed any paperwork with the FBI?

Related articles:

Fannin Focus Publisher Mark Thomason Arrested, Journalist or Vendetta?

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

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

1procedures-800

 

Fannin Focus Publisher Mark Thomason Arrested, Journalist or Vendetta?

News

“If someone starts a fire, takes pictures, calls for a fire truck, follows the fire truck to the scene, asks what happened, writes the story, does that make them a journalist or an arsonist?” BKP

Lynn Doss,  Fannin County Attorney, “If (Judge) Roger Bradley was on fire I would throw a bucket of gasoline on him.”

A Pickens County Grand Jury returned true bills on Friday, June 24th and indicted Fannin Focus Publisher Mark Brannon Thomason for 1 count of Identity Fraud, 1 count of Attempt to Commit Identity Fraud, and 1 count of Making a False Statement.  Thomason’s Attorney, Russell Stookey of Hiawassee Georgia, was also indicted for 1 count of Identity Fraud and 1 count of Attempt to Commit Identity Fraud. Thomason and Stookey were released Saturday the 25th on $10,000 bond with conditions. Ashleigh Merchant from Atlanta is Thomason’s Attorney.

Immediately on Monday morning Thomason started looking for any media outlet who would listen to his story. Journalist arrested, claiming his First Amendment Rights had been violated. Repeating to anyone who would listen how he was arrested for making an open records request, requesting checks from the Appalachian Judicial District Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver and (retired) Judge Roger Bradley claiming the checks appeared to have been cashed instead of deposited.

Thomason knew asserting his rights were violated- Freedom of the Press, Open Records Requests and possible judicial corruption would bring the media out of the woodwork in his defense. He was right. State and National Media outlets and publications have rushed to write “Journalist Jailed.”  Even Georgia First Amendment Foundation wrote “North Georgia publisher jailed in open records matter” and has offered its help to Thomason. In a comment to the Dalton Free Citizen Thomason indicated he plans to file a First Amendment lawsuit because he believes the arrest was a clear example of government “retaliating against a citizen for exercising First Amendment rights.”

Thomason is playing the “poor journalist went to jail” act really well. He made the following comment on his FaceBook page “It’s sad that we live in a world where a message is now being sent to all journalist–you do your job and you just may go to jail!”. Thomason’s quote in AJC “I was astounded, in disbelief that there were even any charges to be had,” said Thomason, 37, who grew up in Fannin County. “I take this as a punch at journalists across the nation that if we continue to do our jobs correctly, then we have to live in fear of being imprisoned.”

 

“Vendetta, a series of acts done by someone over a long period of time to cause harm to a disliked person or group”

As a defender of Freedom of the Press,  before everyone rushes to the defense of the Fannin Focus publisher Mark Thomason, let’s take a look at some of the inconsistencies in his story. We will identify the possibility of vendettas which Thomason and others may have against Judge Roger Bradley and Judge Brenda Weaver.

Thomason’s reason for wanting to see the Judges’ checks he claims is because he received a tip. Sources tell FYN that many of Thomason’s tips came from Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss.

In the Dalton Free Citizen article Thomason told a reporter while the lawsuits were dismissed, and her request to have attorney’s fees paid were denied, Thomason received another tip that the court reporter’s legal expenses were paid out of public funds, viz. Judge Weaver’s court expense funds that are paid out of the Fannin County general fund budget. That’s when Thomason made the open records request for the checks.  

This statement may be inconsistent with the facts. Thomason’s claim that he wanted the checks to prove how the court reporter Rhonda Stubblefield’s legal expenses had been paid may not be valid. Why would he need this when he has the letter? Judge Brenda Weaver sent a letter on November 24, 2015 to Gilmer County Chairman Charlie Paris, Pickens County Chairman Rob Jones and Fannin County Chairman Bill Simonds. The letter explains the reasoning for approving the payment of Stubblefield’s legal expenses from Judge Bradley’s operating account. Judge Weaver asks for the Chairman to contact her if they have any opposition to the payment.  Thomason had a copy of the letter. Thomason even wrote an article in his paper concerning Weaver paying Stubblefield’s legal expenses.

Thomason has never commented about the fact that he lost the case he brought against court reporter Rhonda Stubblefield. Thomason’s claim that audio in the courtroom did not match the transcript was never proved. Thomason and his Attorney Russell Stookey put on quite the show during the court proceedings. Claiming there were several witnesses who could prove the audio and transcript had been altered. Judge Martha Christian accepted their request to depose and present witnesses. On the day of the trial when the court read the list of depositions entered into evidence several were missing.  Mary Beth Priest,  attorney for Stubblefield, questioned the missing depositions. Judge Christian asked Stookey about the depositions which were missing from the witness list. Stookey seemed surprised and, after a short recess, reported to the court that they found out that the court reporter had not been paid so she did not file the depositions in the Clerk of Courts office. Stookey told Judge Christian that they were in the process of paying the court reporter and the depositions would be filed. Although this caused a delay in the case Judge Christian accepted having the depositions filed at a later date for her to read. It appeared Judge Christian was giving Thomason and Stookey every opportunity to prove their case. In court Stookey always liked to play the F.B.I. is investigating the case and his client is being followed and is in fear for his life. Judge Christian ruled that Stubblefield filed the transcript in question properly with the clerk’s office and there was no evidence the audio had been altered.

Who was adding fuel to the fire and pushing Thomason on what to do next? I remember Lynn Doss coming into the courtroom and sitting next to Thomason. In the back of the courtroom the two of them would review paperwork and Doss would whisper into Thomason’s ear.

So was Thomason being the great investigative reporter everyone is giving him credit for or just staying focused on the agenda and vendetta. Doss had nothing to do with the case so why was she sitting in the back with Thomason during the case. Doss is the Attorney for Fannin County, Fannin County Water Authority, and Fannin County Board of Education along with her private practice. I am sure she had much more pressing issues to handle rather than to be sitting in the courtroom with Thomason whispering in his ear. Maybe a vendetta.

This was never about Rhonda Stubblefield. She was the one caught in the middle of the vendetta. Do you think Lynn Doss and Mark Thomason are just trying to do the right thing by Ray Green you know, aka  N…. Ray?

From an artical in Gawker.com

Thomason, whose dedication to this courtroom slur story is really something else, had his lawyer file paperwork in an attempt to legally compel the stenographer, whose name is Rhonda Stubblefield, to release the audio recording. She filed a counterclaim, asking Thomason for $1.6 million in damages(!) for allegedly defaming her in his story by implying that her transcripts might not be completely accurate. A judge closed Thomason’s case against Stubblefield, and Stubblefield dropped her counterclaim.

 

Didn’t quite happen that way. Stubblefield did not drop her $1.6 million defamation case because Judge Christian closed Thomason’s case against her. Thomason lost his case. When Thomason lost it basically confirmed that most likely Stubblefield would win the $1.6 million defamation case.  

 

When FYN asked Stubblefield’s Attorney Mary Beth Priest why they dropped the case she told us they could not find any value in the Fannin Focus or Thomason personally. Thomason claims to be the owner of the paper. Sources tell FYN that Thomason lives in his mother’s basement. In May the Fannin Focus was served a dispossessory notice on its office space in the amount of $16,000 for back rent.  In 2009 Ford Motor filed a Fi Fa (Writ of Fieri Facias) in the amount $18,638.73.

On January 21st of this year Tonya Nuelle filed a complaint in Fannin Magistrate court stating “I loaned Mark $3,300 on 10/04/15 he promised to pay me back in full on 10/31/15. He has paid me nothing as of to date.  Sources tell FYN there is a list of people that have loaned Thomason money who have not been repaid. Mystery surrounds the source of revenue for the Fannin Focus. Stubblefield’s attorney told FYN after the research on Thomason and the Fannin Focus her client was going to have to invest a lot of money into a court case and come out with basically a worthless piece of paper.

Thomason told the Dalton Free Citizen Dalton “ According to the rural north Georgia journalist, he simply made open records requests that made people in powerful positions angry.”

 

Again not a true statement. Thomason was never denied an open records request.

Thomason sent an open records request to Fannin County CFO Rita Davis Kirby for copies of checks. When Kirby sent Thomason the cost from the bank to get the checks and redact them she never heard back from Thomason. Thomason was not denied the open records. FYN has a copy of an email Pickens County CFO Faye Harvey sent Thomason concerning his request for the checks.  

From: Faye Harvey  Sent: Tuesday, June 14, 2016 9:35 AM To: mark[email protected]

Cc: Robert Jones; Deborah Watson Subject: Open Records request

I received your request for documents regarding the Judges’ quarterly operating expense for the previous 3 years. I estimate that the retrieval and printing of the cleared checks from our bank account archives will take 3.5 hours and can be done by my assistant, whose hourly rate is $18.00.   The cost for performing this request is $58.50 for personnel time plus $2.40 for copies.  Please forward payment in the amount of $60.90 and we will begin compiling the requested information. I am attaching a copy of Pickens County’s open record request form which is on the county website pickenscountyga.gov under the “Pickens County” tab on the home page. Best regards, Faye Harvey, Finance Director Pickens County Government

 

Faye Harvey never received a response from Thomason. No one denied Thomason the checks through open records request. Another false statement from Thomason. If Thomason would have received the checks through open records request the account and routing numbers would have been redacted.

So how did he and his Attorney Russell Stookey get copies of the checks? Could it have been Lynn Doss? Did Lynn Doss misuse her position as County Attorney to get the checks and then give them to Thomason and Stookey with the account numbers still on the checks? Maybe the District Attorney missed one indictment in this story?

Why did Thomason think the checks had been cashed instead of deposited? What would lead him to believe the numbers on the check indicated they had been cashed. How did he know what was on the checks? Would he once again be following the lead of Lynn Doss. We understand Doss told people a local Bank Executive Manager said the numbers on the checks indicated an override and the checks had been cashed. Wonder if Thomason heard this from Doss? We understand the Bank Executive denies telling anyone what the numbers indicated. The Bank Executive is on the witness list which District Attorney B. Allison presented to the Grand Jury.

Pickens County CFO Faye Harvey, Gilmer County CFO Sandi Holden, and Fannin County CFO Rita Davis Kirby released a statement stating they had reviewed the front and back of each check and all checks appear to have been endorsed properly (Deposit Only) and deposited into the proper accounts. The Statements are posted at the bottom of this article.

There is a difference between a motion for evidence using a subpoena and an open records request. So if the case is closed, Stubblefield has dropped her case and you know for a fact that Stubblefield’s legal expenses have been paid out of Judge Bradley’s operating account why push so hard for checks? To prove what?

Maybe Lynn Doss? Doss’s husband resigned as a Superior Court Judge as the JQC was preparing to recommend formal charges for Harry Doss in 2009.

“Judge under state investigation resigns

By TOM CRAWFORD | Published: NOVEMBER 9, 2009

Judge Oliver Harris “Harry” Doss Jr. of Blue Ridge, who was facing the possibility of a trial before the Judicial Qualifications Commission on charges concerning his behavior in courtroom proceedings, has resigned his Superior Court judgeship effective Dec. 5.In his resignation letter to Gov. Sonny Perdue, Doss said he was told that the JQC, using “newly discovered information,” was going to file formal charges against him. Those charges could be avoided, Doss said, if he resigned from the bench by Nov. 7; his letter of resignation is dated Nov. 6.”

Lynn Doss made the remark to FYN in the past that she thought Brenda Weaver and Roger Bradley were involved in her husband’s JQC investigation that eventually lead to her husband’s resignation.

Lynn Doss has such a dislike for Roger Bradley she didn’t even want to have Bradley preside over one of her cases. When Scott Kiker became Probate Judge Chief Judge Brenda Weaver entered a recusal order for all Judges in the district to not preside over Kiker’s cases. Knowing this Doss went as far as to have Fannin County Probate Judge Scott Kiker enter an appearance on one of her cases to force Bradley to recuse himself and have the case assigned to a visiting Judge. Lynn Doss and Scott Kiker are co-counsel on several cases and her husband Harry Doss is the Fannin County Probate Court Public Defender where Kiker is the Judge. Interesting.

Vendetta? Maybe.  Rogers gone, now Brenda? Maybe Kiker wanted one of the open Superior Court seats? He interviewed for the seat with Governor Deal. There is much more to this part of the story we don’t have time for today. Oh, by the way, Mark Thomason is Scott Kiker’s cousin. Just say’in.

Questions surround Thomason’s bond conditions. First let’s look at the drug testing. Thomason is no stranger to court ordered drug testing. Just check court records. In Thomason’s divorce, which Judge Bradley presided over in 2011, in Thomason’s ex-wife’s petition for full custody of the two minor children, she made a statement to the court that while the children were in Thomason’s custody he used illegal drugs. Judge Bradley awarded full custody of the two minor children to his ex-wife and gave Thomason supervised visitation. Court records show that Thomason has been in contempt of the order several times for back child support. Judge Bradley even ordered Thomason arrested in the past for his neglect to pay his child support. Maybe some reasons for a vendetta against the judge? Just this May, Division of Child Support Services issued a Complaint for Contempt against Thomason for back child support in the amount $2,004.00. Sources tell FYN Harry Doss may be his attorney in this matter.

On June 5th 2012 Fannin Magistrate Court issued a warrant for Thomason’s arrest for theft by taking. Jeffery Meeks claimed Thomason took $350, a checkbook, a birth certificate, a social security card and other miscellaneous papers from his car. Thomason was released on a $1,000 bond.

Thomason says one of his bond conditions is he can not be within 200 yard of the witness the District Attorney plans to call in the case. Some of the witnesses include Lynn Doss, Rita Davis Kirby, Ruth Jordan, Scott Kiker, Bill Simonds, Robert Jones, Melissa Queen, Dana Chastain, and Carol Caywood (Stearns Bank). There are several more.

So Mark Thomason and his Attorney Russell Stookey want you to believe that District Attorney B. Alison Sosebee presented this to a grand jury made up of sixteen Pickens County Citizens who don’t even know who they are but returned a true bill indicting Thomason on three counts and Stookey on two counts because Thomason angered some powerful people with a open records request. I can’t wait to watch this play out, maybe more indictments to come.  Journalist jailed or Vendetta?

Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney Alison Sosebee told the AP on Friday that the false statement “has nothing to do with an attempt of Mr. Thomason to access records utilizing the Open Records Act.”

She said the charge “specifically relates to the statement that he included within his request.” Sosebee said she couldn’t elaborate on the charges since the case is open but that the charges related to Thomason and Stookey’s use of the subpoena were “based on a totality of the circumstances.”

One should question why the online news network who wrote “Video Journalist Forcefully Removed From Republican Meeting!” and was a guest of Nydia Tisdale’s at this past years Georgia First Amendment Foundation Banquet has not written a story in defense of Thomason? Because there is much more to the story that Thomason is sharing with all who will listen.

The way Thomason’s publication, the Fannin Focus,  reads one may get the idea they have an agenda. An article in the AJC by Rhonda Cook stated Judge Brenda Weaver said others in the community were using Thomason to get her. “It’s clear this is a personal vendetta against me,” she said. “I don’t know how else to explain that.”

The vendetta against Judge Weaver and Bradley go way back for Lynn Doss and Mark Thomason. Both for different reasons. When Bradley used the racial slur in the courtroom, “N” Ray, Doss was quick to let everyone who would listen know what the Judge said. She called FYN to tell us what happened. You could hear the excitement in her voice as she explained what Bradley said in the courtroom. She exclaimed this is big. I don’t see how Bradley will survive this one. FYN told Doss we would start gathering the facts so that we could write the story. In a Dalton Citizen article by Jim Zachary, Thomason said Back in early 2015 he had gotten wind of another local judge using racial slurs in open court. That wind was Lynn Doss. FYN received the same wind from Lynn Doss. When Doss contacted FYN about the story she let us know Mark Thomason was already on the story.

Doss called FYN the following day to inquire about when we would be writing a story concerning what Bradley said in the courtroom. I told Doss that at this time I could not verify  what took place in the courtroom and did not know who said what. Accusations were being made about several people and I needed more information before I could write anything. Her tone noticeably changed and she became angry. That is when she told me,  “If Roger Bradley was on fire I would throw a bucket of gasoline on him.”

This comment made me realize she was more interested in me being a part of her vendetta against Bradley than FYN writing an accurate story for our readers. It was clear that this was much more to her and Thomason than a racial slur.

Wonder if Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss will ever have to explain that comment and just how far she would take her vendetta against both Superior Court Judges Roger Bradley and Brenda Weaver. We may soon find out.

Allen Duray Green AKA Ray Green AKA N….Ray. I met Ray Green approximately 13 years ago in Union County on a construction job site. I was waiting to meet Ray concerning some building materials he wanted to purchase. When Ray showed up he got out of his truck and introduced himself to me as N…. Ray. I said Mr. Green, he stopped me and said everyone calls me N…. Ray. I am the N…. of Union County.  So when Ray Green says with tears in his eyes that he is so hurt because he has never been N…. Ray, he is Ray Green. That is a lie. Click here to watch my video interview with Ray Green. When Thomason sued Rhonda Stubblefield over the court audio one of his witnesses, Walter Liete, in his deposition under oath admitted to  how Ray Green referred to himself. N…. Ray. Wonder if Thomason knows this?

Judge Bradley was hearing a bond revocation motion for Robert Vivian AKA Robo the day the racial slur was used in the courtroom. The District Attorney’s office was asking for Vivian’s bond to be revoked based on accusations that Vivian was threatening witnesses in his case. Ray Green was in the courtroom as a witness for Vivian. Vivian and Green were business partners in construction. The transcript showed that the Assistant District Attorney Martin referred to Ray Green using his street name N…. Ray. That lead to Judge Bradley to ask if N…. Ray was relation to a Fannin County man back in the 70’s who everyone referred to N…. Bob. The Judge said in the transcript he was not saying that disparagingly. Everyone knew Bob referred to himself as N…. Bob. FYN knows this to be true on both accounts, Ray and Bob. Click to read court transcript.

 

A couple of months after Vivian’s Bond revocation hearing where the racial slur was said Vivian pled guilty in front of Judge Amanda Mercier in a Gilmer County Courtroom. FYN was present. Vivian was sentenced for one count of arson, one count of burglary, and one count of theft by taking. Sentenced to 30 years and to serve 9 years with the balance to be served on probation. Robert Vivian and Ray Green with the help of Mark Thomason did everything they could to use the “N” word to muddy the waters in Vivian’s case.

You see I could write much more I was there and can tell the story in detail.


boc-letters

$208,000 Pays for One Year’s Back Wages for Four County Employees

News

At the May 2 meeting of the Fannin Board of Commissioners, checks totaling $208,000 were at the center of a controversy within the Board of Commissioners (see “Bill Simonds Admits to Signing Checks Totaling $208,000 without Commissioners’ Approval).  The checks were signed and sent to Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) on April 15, 2016.  ACCG is a para-governmental organization which handles liability insurance for the Board of Commissioners. On April 18, 2016, the insurance company reimbursed the Board of Commissioners the full amount of the checks.

According to City Attorney Lynn Doss, the $208,000 checks had to be written because ACCG could not process the back wages awarded to the four former county employees who had brought the civil lawsuit.  (for more details read “Attorney Lynn Doss Explains EEOC Lawsuit”).  Ms. Doss stated that the money paid to ACCG and then forwarded to the former employees included payroll taxes of the former employees as well.

$208,000 seems like a very large sum for a years’ worth of back wages to four county employees, so FetchYourNews, through an open records request, obtained copies of the checks.  The net amount of wages received by the four former employees were $24,995.69, $21,327.90, $23,113.64 and $25,070.89.  Each person received one check.

However, the checks written to cover the one-year’s worth of back wages were $47,500.15, $43,165.19, $51,694.55 and $51,089.88, a considerable difference between what each employee received and what the Board of Commissioners paid for each employee.  The differences are approximately $20,000 to $25,000.

FetchYourNews spoke with County Clerk and Finance Director Rita Kirby to find out why there are such large differences between what the county paid out per employee and what the employee actually received.  Ms. Kirby stated that the differences are due to payroll taxes.  Taken to its conclusion, it means that the employee making $21,327.90 a year had approximately $20,000 in payroll taxes that same year.

Since the $208,000 in checks caused such controversy at the Board of Commissioners meeting, Ms. Kirby wants to emphasize that the money paid to ACCG to cover the back wages was reimbursed penny-for-penny by the ACCG.  Also, Ms. Kirby emphasized that the lawsuit for back wages was not settled by the county.  Rather it was settled by ACCG.  At the Board of Commissioners meeting, Ms. Doss was very clear in stating that ACCG, not the Board of Commissioners, decided to settle the lawsuit.  In fact, each of the four plaintiffs signed a statement that they were settling with ACCG and not with the Board of Commissioners.

In the end, Ms. Kirby says, that Fannin County did not pay any money whatsoever to settle the civil lawsuit.  She does not know how the $208,000 civil lawsuit settlement will affect the insurance premiums for the county for two reasons.  One, the county has not had any large sum claims against its policy in the past.  And, the structure of the liability insurance spreads liability costs across all counties using ACCG insurance since it is a mutual insurance fund.  Although she is not sure, Ms. Kirby can foresee that there may be a slight increase in insurance premiums due to the payout.

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