It's going to be an interesting election season this year.
Qualifying for the Nov. 2 election closed in most of the county's municipalities last week. Contested races are set in several cities in Jackson County.
In Arcade, four people qualified for two at-large council seats, including incumbents Debra Gammon and Ron Smith, along with challengers Leah Hollett and Steven Kirby Lavender. Arcade mayor Doug Haynie also qualified with no opposition.
All three of Braselton's races are contested. In the mayoral race, Hardy Johnson, former councilman in District 4, will face Kurt Ward. Mayor Bill Orr is not seeking reelection. James Murphy and Jeff Gardner qualified for the Braselton Town Council District 4 seat. And District 2 incumbent, Peggy Slappey, will face challenger Richard Harper.
In Commerce, Stacey Rucker, Eric Gatheright and Andre Rollins qualified for the Commerce City Council Ward 1 seat. Incumbent Archie Chaney is not seeking reelection. City Council Ward 2 incumbent, Darren Owensby, will face challenger, Brad Coker. Incumbent Mayor Pro Tem Keith Burchett qualified for reelection with no opposition.
For the Commerce Board of Education seats, incumbent Ward 1 representative Nathan Anderson qualified with no opposition. Cara Bray was the sole qualifier for Ward 2 (incumbent Mary Pittman is not seeking reelection).
In Hoschton, Lauren O'Leary is challenging incumbent mayor Shannon Sell. Qualifying was also held for four Hoschton City Council seat (two existing seats and two new seats). Incumbent council members Tracy Carswell and James Lawson both qualified, along with Fredria Carter-Sterling and Scott Mims.
In Jefferson, City Council District 2 incumbent Malcolm Gramley will face challengers Dawn Maddox and Mike Martin. Unopposed incumbents in Jefferson were: Jon Howell, mayor; Mark Mobley, city council district 4; Ronnie Hopkins, school board chair; Lisa Richmond, school board district 4; and Brantley Porter, school board district 2.
Only incumbents qualified in Maysville, including council member Ward 1, Kathleen Bush, and council member Ward 3, Richard Parr.
In Nicholson, Thomas Gary, incumbent; Dusty Durst, incumbent; and Joshua Burkhalter qualified for two at-large council seats.
In Pendergrass, Nick Geiman and incumbent Nathan Pruitt qualified for two at-large council seats. Pendergrass is also calling for a special election to fill two new council seats (Post 5 and 6). Qualifying for those two council seats runs through Aug. 25 at noon.
Only incumbents qualified in Talmo, including mayor Jill Elliott and council members Jill Miller and Kirk Jackson.
Commerce honored two long time public servants at a recent city council meeting.
As of Monday, August 16, the former Boys and Girls Club park is now known as Chaney Park, named in honor of councilman Archie Chaney who has served on the city council since 1983; and his brother Sam Chaney, a longtime teacher and coach in the Commerce school system.
Ten of A. Chaney's 38 years on the council were spent as Mayor Pro Tem. Prior to serving on the city council, he served on the Commerce Board of Education from 1978 to 1983 and was board chairman in 1983. A. Chaney is not running for reelection this year.
A. Chaney is the councilman of ward 1 which includes the Boys and Girls Club, where he volunteered for many years. He was also a member of the Commerce housing authority.
“I can go on naming all of these things Archie has done,” said Commerce Mayor Clark Hill. “I think the summation of it all is that Archie Chaney has the heart of a public servant. He’s given his life to doing that. We certainly hope that as [Chaney] moves on to the next chapter in [his] life, that [he] continues to be volunteering and active."
Fellow councilman Johnny Eubanks noted that A. Chaney was an honorary fireman under four different fire chiefs. “He really should be getting a pension,” Eubanks joked.
“I am in shock,” A. Chaney said. “I knew nothing about this. Truly, I can say thank you. Sometimes, you just have to cry.”
Sam Chaney has also served on the Commerce library board, in the Commerce parks and recreation department as a coach, and in multiple programs sanctioned by the Boys and Girls Club of Jackson County.
The city kept the item off its council agenda so it could surprise A. Chaney at the end of the meeting. Members of his family waited in the civic center lobby and a ceremony honoring Chaney was held after the meeting adjourned.
S. Chaney knew of the park renaming before the meeting, but he was surprised to learn the park was being named in his honor as well.
A new "Chaney Park” signed was installed at the park during the meeting. The original plan was for the council to hold the park naming ceremony on location, but rainfall changed the councils’ plans.
The Jefferson City Council heard complaints on Aug. 23 from several downtown businesses about special events that tie up parking in the area.
City manager Priscilla Murphy had proposed putting a moratorium on special public facility use permits downtown, but in the end the council took no action.
Mike Martin, owner of Revival Hall, spoke in opposition to the proposed moratorium. Martin said parking isn't an issue for Revival Hall and wanted the city and business owners to come up with creative solutions to city parking problems.
"To me, a moratorium is silly," Martin said. "We talk about wanting a busy and active downtown — well, let's put a moratorium on downtown events? Why would we go into a moratorium? Why not say 'hold on, is there something we can do together as a team to come up with a solution?' No one is having those conversations.
"Frankly, when I send those conversations to the council, I get no response. I'm over here as a business owner, now with a moratorium, and I'm saying nobody's reaching out to say can we do something creative. To me, that's a miss from the council."
But several other area business owners said the special events impact parking downtown and their businesses.
The owners Diesel Donuts and Friends, as well as Alex Jerebie (owner of east public square building) were in favor of the moratorium, each citing Jefferson's deficits in parking and infrastructure.
Jerebie, who's owned the building since 2008, urged the city to expand the East Public Square lot. He also said he was willing to pay a portion of the project himself since the businesses in his building are affected.
Ray Stanjevich, owner of Friends Jefferson Grill, said if he had a friend who wanted to open a restaurant in downtown Jefferson, he'd tell them to wait a while.
"Continuing with the special use permit, I don't think it makes any sense," Stanjevich said. "The infrastructure in downtown Jefferson just is not there to shut down streets, to block off parking lots for a special use permit. There has to be a different answer. Hopefully [the council] can come up with one in conjunction with all of the business people in downtown Jefferson. I want everybody down there to be successful."
Jay McClay, owner of Diesel Donuts, said if his business wasn't a quick counter service, he wouldn't have opened downtown because of parking. He said that since much of his clientele are younger mothers, a bulk of his potential customers aren't willing to walk from the back lot with a small child, a dozen donuts and coffee. McClay also expressed concerns about Dunkin Donuts coming to the Kroger shopping center, saying that downtown parking issues would cause his customers to shop elsewhere.
Commerce planners gave their stamp of approval this week on a church’s plan to revitalize a portion of a downtown landmark.
The Commerce Planning and Zoning Board unanimously approved a conditional use request from New Grace for the old Harmony Grove mill on the south side of town, located at 821 South Elm St. New Grace’s lead pastor Derek Anglin said the church plans to repurpose approximately 25,000 square feet of the facility with plans to relocate the church to the site.
The property is zoned M-1 and requires a conditional use to allow a religious institution. The Commerce City Council will have the ultimate say on the matter in September.
New Grace was launched in 2013 at Commerce Cinemas at Banks Crossing. The church started with 15 people.
“We outgrew the movie theater after a year,” Anglin said, adding that the church then relocated across Hwy. 441 in the shopping center next to Outback Steakhouse, where it was housed for six years.
The owners of that strip shopping center have recently repurposed the facility, causing New Grace and other vendors to have to relocate.
“Which was really unique timing for us because we had actually been looking at the City of Commerce as a potential for a location,” said Anglin, and the church ultimately landed on the old mill site.
One area resident spoke against the request, voicing worries over traffic and parking.
But most of the response — from citizens in the audience and planning board members — was positive.
“We’re always saying that if you’re going to invest in this community, invest in something that will better the circumstances of the community, that will somehow enhance their lives,” said citizen Kelli Baugh.
Several planning board members noted it’s positive to see this revitalization of a historic piece of downtown.
“I’ve been wanting to see something happen with this building beyond the industrial use,” said planner Melinda Cochran-Davis.
“Getting people back on that part of town, too,” chairman Joe Leffew added.
Planning and zoning administrator Jordan Shoemaker said there are additional plans in the early stages that could potentially bring more commercial/recreation uses to the building. According to online records, the facility totals around 250,000 square feet.
The church has also gotten permission to use the parking lot adjacent to the facility.
See more coverage from the planning board meeting in the Sept. 1 issue of The Jackson Herald.
Jackson County is one of the fastest growing counties in North Georgia with a 25.5% population increase between 2010 and 2020.
Census data released last week showed that Jackson now has a population of 75,907 compared to 60,485 in 2010.
Jackson was behind Forsyth County's growth of 43%, the highest rate in the state.
The Jefferson microarea, which is Jackson County, was also in the top tier of growth areas, ranking in the top six to gain 15,000 people or more since 2010.
The census data also shows that Jackson's Hispanic population is its largest minority group.
There were 6,712 Hispanics (8.8%) counted in 2020, 5,232 blacks (6.9%) and 1,780 Asians (2.3%).
Ken Harmon will serve as Commerce’s chief of police.
City manager James Wascher said in an email Aug. 20 that Harmon has been named the town's new police chief. Harmon replaces Zach Ardis, who served as chief of police since 2016. Ardis took another position in Longmont, Colo.
Harmon has worked with the Commerce Police Department since 2002. He has 28 years of law enforcement experience.
Harmon has served in many roles including uniform patrol, criminal investigations, task force officer for the DEA and as deputy chief with the Commerce PD.
"I am excited to serve the City of Commerce in this new role," Harmon said. "I fell in love with this community when I moved my family here nearly twenty years ago. It has been a wonderful place to raise my children. I look forward to helping to protect the way of life that I came to love when I arrived here. As Commerce experiences growth in the coming years I want to make certain that we have a Police Department that takes an interest in preserving our way of life. I will ensure that we have a police department that is approachable. The officers of the Commerce Police Department will be known within their community and accessible to everyone. I plan to exercise principles of community oriented policing in an effort to build greater levels of trust within the community while protecting our friends and neighbors."
Harmon earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and public administration from Liberty University, a master’s degree of public safety administration from Columbus State University, and he is a graduate of the Georgia Law Enforcement Command College.
Harmon is also an active member of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. He is also an active member of the Southern Police Institute Alumni Association.
“Ken has long been part of the Commerce community and cares deeply for the residents and employees of the police department,” said Wascher. “While protecting the citizens and preventing crime are always tenants of the law enforcement community, Ken will also put an emphasis on building trust, strengthening community relationships, and enhancing the quality of life through community oriented policing. I am very excited to have Mr. Harmon serve in the role of police chief and look forward to working with him for the betterment of the community.”
Harmon said he's pleased with the reception he's gotten so far.
"I am so thankful for the encouragement that I have been met with thus far," he said. "I appreciate the confidence that has been placed in me and I plan to work hard to make certain that everyone in the City of Commerce has a Police Department that they can trust and are familiar with. Together we will have a great police department."
A man was arrested last week after firing shots toward Jackson County deputies.
The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office attempted to serve an arrest warrant on James Ryan Standridge on Waterworks Rd. on Aug. 19 around 6 p.m.
Deputies were inside a residence when Standridge started firing shots in the direction of the deputies from his bedroom, according to a JCSO news release. They were able to retreat with an elderly lady, removing her from the residence.
Deputies were able to keep verbal communication with Standridge and talked him into surrendering.
Waterworks Rd. at Cabin Creek Rd. were shut down for a short period of time.
Standridge, 40, was arrested and is currently in the Jackson County Jail and has been charged with six counts of aggravated assault on officers, two counts of aggravated assault-Family Violence Act, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime and possession of methamphetamine.
Four more Jackson County residents have died from COVID-19.
The Georgia Department of Public Health reports 145 confirmed deaths in Jackson County as of Aug. 23, along with 13 probable deaths since the start of the pandemic.
The county also reached a grim milestone this week, topping 10,000 confirmed cases. There have been 10,040 cases in Jackson County since the start of the pandemic. Jackson County is the 8th highest county in the state when looking at confirmed cases per 100,000 residents since the start of the pandemic.
The county has had 811 new cases in the past two weeks, a rate far higher than the state average.
Meanwhile, the county continues to lag behind the state average in vaccination rates. Across the state, 42% of residents are fully vaccinated, compared to 36% in Jackson County.
Representatives from six major healthcare groups held a joint press conference last week, pleading for people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Emory Healthcare, Grady Health System, Northeast Georgia Health System, Piedmont Hospital and Wellstar Health System held the joint news conference Aug. 19. The event comes amid the most recent surge in COVID, fueled by the highly-contagious Delta variant, which has put pressure on hospitals across the state in recent weeks.
Several doctors noted the current surge may be worse than those in the past.
“They’re now facing a surge that’s predicted to be worse than anything that we’ve seen before,” said Dr. John Delzell, vice president of medical education at Northeast Georgia Health System.
“These are huge numbers and we’re seeing this peak rise very, very quickly,” said Dr. Danny Branstetter, medical director of infection prevention at Wellstar Health System. “Rising to match or exceed the peaks we saw in the winter months of December and January.”
The current surge isn’t expected to peak until after Labor Day.
Hospital systems across the state are again facing increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients, putting a strain on capacity and the morale of healthcare workers.
“We don’t have the luxury of saying ‘we’re full, we’re closed.’ We’re not a hotel.” said Dr. Robert Jansen, chief medical officer and chief of staff at Grady Health System. “So people will continue to come and our staff will continue to cope and we’ll continue to find places to take care of these patients, but it is going to be difficult…”
“We are seeing many nurses and clinicians — the strongest professionals I have ever known — leave the profession or pause their careers because of the stress of the pandemic…,” said Sharon Pappas, PhD, RN, chief nurse executive of Emory Healthcare.
IMPACTING YOUNGER COMMUNITY
Several of the representatives noted their hospitals are seeing an increase in younger patients with COVID-19.
When COVID-19 first hit, many of those infected who had complications were older and had comorbidities. But Branstetter said that’s not the reality anymore.
“The virus is no longer drawing that distinction. We’re seeing far more young people affected by this virus…,” he said, adding that some require hospitalization and suffer lifelong injuries to their lungs, as well as strokes and heart attacks.
Dr. Andy Jaffal, chief medical officer at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital, noted they’re increasingly seeing younger patients across their hospitals.
“I watched a 28-year-old previously healthy, unvaccinated patient die from COVID complications. And while we value every life, that one was tough because it could have been prevented,” he said.
Dr. Jim Fortenberry, chief medical officer of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, added that CHOA is also seeing an impact in its younger population.
“We are seeing a significantly greater impact on our children and our teens,” said Fortenberry. “We’re seeing more COVID-19 positive patients in our emergency departments, urgent care centers and hospitals than at any time in the pandemic.”
The recent surge, combined with the spread of other respiratory viruses this year, has led to higher numbers of patients at CHOA facilities, Fortenberry said.
The common message across the board was the plea for the community to get vaccinated against the virus.
“The vaccines have been proven safe and effective at reducing not only infection, but also, if infected… reducing the need for hospitalization and ICU stay,” said Branstetter.
The vast majority of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 are unvaccinated. As of Aug. 23 at Northeast Georgia Health System, 86% of those who have tested positive for COVID are unvaccinated. Ninety-six percent in critical care at NGHS are unvaccinated.
“If you aren’t concerned about getting the vaccine to protect yourself, do it for the people around you. Do it for the people you love. Do it for your healthcare workers that are taking care of you. Do it for your communities,” Delzell said.
The group also encouraged people to continue practicing social distancing, wearing a mask and washing hands.