JASPER, Ga. – As part of his 27-day bus tour, Georgia Governor candidate Brian Kemp stopped at the Appalachian Gun, Pawn, and Range to visit locals and connect with Georgians during his campaign.
Kemp stated about the tour, “We’ve been having to really work hard on our fundraising to offset the billionaires in California and New York that are funding my opponent’s campaign. We’ve done that. Now, we’re hitting the road and we’re going to keep moving …”
Stopping into his Pickens location a little after 10 a.m., Kemp was joined by U.S. Congressman Doug Collins, State Senator Steve Gooch, and State Representative Rick Jasperse, who all spoke on his behalf at the stump speech. Additionally, State Senator Chuck Payne was also present.
Even local Pickens County Commission Chairman Rob Jones attended the event as he said yes he is officially supporting Kemp saying, “He knows where we are at, he knows who we are, and he knows what kind of support we’ve got here.”
Gooch welcomed citizens to the event and called for support for electing Republicans across the state offices, spearheaded with Brian Kemp’s campaign for Governor saying, “We all have to get our families, our friends, and our selves to the polls and elect these good conservatives that are running.”
Jasperse added to the call to get more people to the polls saying that the next four weeks needed hard work to get those not present at the rally to vote as well. “We’ve got to have all of us joining hands to elect our next governor… to make sure that we elect a great Georgian who is going to reflect our values.”
Collins also spoke at the event. Building up the crowd, he called the legislation in Washington D.C. a fight in need of help from the country saying, “It’s got to start at home… I don’t want to know what you would have done on November 7. I don’t want to know who you would have called on November 7. I want to start today and say how many of you are willing to text people today, on October 1, and say, ‘Voting is coming up, I need you to go vote for Brian Kemp.'”
Kemp called Georgia politics a fight as well since he is running against a radical. Quoting his campaign slogan to “Put Georgians First,” Kemp spoke about cutting regulations and aiding the small businesses like his hosts, Appalachian Gun, Pawn, and Range. He said he wanted to lower Georgia’s taxes as opposed to his opponent’s plan “to raise your taxes even though she hasn’t paid her own.”
Saying it is not Georgia’s values that she holds, he said he wants to continue the work that the senators and representatives that were at the rally with him have started.
Kemp attacked Abrams’ plans for big government in education saying, “She believes in more government education, more mandates, more big government programs that don’t work. She wants to do away with SSO Scholarships, she wants to do away with private pre-K providers, and she wants to give the Hope Scholarship to non-citizens. That is not what we want.”
Kemp instead advocated for local control, school choice, and better education funding as he noted that for the first time ever, the QBE program has been funded.
Kemp also attacked the healthcare programs saying that she ultimately wants a single-payer government run healthcare system and a three-fold increase in taxes to pay for it. Kemp opposed the program saying, “We need private sector solutions to create a better market, to lower costs on healthcare.”
Calling on those present to help the campaign and urge others to vote, Kemp said, “The stakes have never been higher. We are literally battling the socialists and the radical left from all over this country. They are pouring money into this race. But they can’t vote, and you can.”
He colloquially told people to “put some more gas in that chainsaw. Get your ax and your mattock out, and keep chopping wood.”
He said the race isn’t a foregone conclusion, calling the other side motivated. Kemp urged his voters and supporters to be more motivated saying, “If you turned out here for the presidential election to elect Donald Trump, we need you to turn out here to elect Brian Kemp.”
The event turned out over 400 people to hear Kemp speak and support the campaign. One citizen, Dianne Traynham, said she was there because she was interested in what Kemp has said and his support for rural Georgia. She added that her daughter is a teacher and Kemp’s pledge to take care of the state’s teachers was a major reason for her support.
Another citizen, Brandi Dean, said she “absolutely, 100%” voted for Kemp in the primary, and wants to do it again. She added that Kemp is not afraid to share his Christian values and morals and is not afraid to put them out there. Sharing those same values, she was excited to see him in Pickens County.
Both women said that visiting Pickens county specifically was meaningful and showed that he recognized how important the rural counties are in the election.
Wrapping up the speeches, a special presentation was held as Ralph and Kim Fitts, owners of Appalachian Gun, Pawn, and Range, presented Kemp with a Smith & Wesson Governor, a snub-nosed revolver. In celebration of Kemp’s visit, Kim Fitts said they would be sending the gun into Smith & Wesson to have “Governor Brian Kemp” engraved on the barrel of the gun.
For more photos from the event, visit the FetchYourNews Facebook Page.
Have you ever had a goal that you wished to achieve? Something became a driving force in your life as it took a point of focus. It may have been that you wanted to become something, maybe a firefighter, an astronaut, or a soldier. You strove to follow that dream, to grow closer to that goal. The achievement was your motivation.
For some, at least.
Many people will recall the nearly 30 years Mark Henson spent as the Superintendent of Fannin County Schools teaching and influencing the kids of Fannin County. Many may think of this as a life well spent. Henson himself would agree, but it was not always so.
Growing up among a family of educators, Henson knew the life well before he even graduated high school. It was part of the reason he struggled so hard against it. While it may seem like 30 years in the career isn’t the best evasion strategy, Henson says it came down to logic as to why he finally gave in.
After high school graduation, he took his goal of avoidance instead of achievement to heart. “If you go back and look at my high school annual, my ambition was to do anything but teach school because everybody in my family at that time, were teachers,” says Henson as he explains attending the University of Georgia shortly before moving back to Blue ridge to work for the Blue Ridge Telephone Company.
Spending about a year at the job after college didn’t work out. Henson doesn’t speak much on the topic as he says his father knew someone working for Canada Dry in Athens. With a job opening available and good pay to entice him, Henson made the switch to working for the soda company.
Moving to Athens, Henson became an RC/Canada Dry Salesperson over the surrounding five counties in Athens. A hard job that required many hours, Henson said he’d be at work at 6 a.m. and got back home at 8:30 p.m. Though well-paying, the job fell flat for Henson as he came to terms with the long hours and little time for himself. With two years under his belt at the company, he began thinking about Blue Ridge again and his options. As he says, “Teaching didn’t look so bad then.”
Despite the years in opposition, the effort spent running away from the ‘family business,’ Henson began thinking ahead at the rest of his life. Already considering retirement at the time, it was this that ultimately turned his attention back to teaching. It wasn’t family, it wasn’t friends, but rather, it was logic that drew him to the career his life’s ambition avoided.
“I made pretty good money, there just wasn’t any retirement,” says Henson about his time at Canada Dry. As he looked harder at teaching and began seriously considering the career path, he says, “When you look at teachers, you’re never going to get rich being a teacher, but there’s a lot of benefits like retirement and health insurance that these other jobs just didn’t have.” He also notes he proved what he wanted as he retired at 54-years-old.
After much thought, it began with a call to his father, Frank Henson. He told his father he wanted to come home and pursue teaching. Though his father told him to come home and stay with them again, Henson says it was the money he had saved from his position at Canada Dry that allowed him to attend school for a year before being hired as a para-pro, a paraprofessional educator. It was a very busy time in his life as Henson states, “I would go up there and work until 11:30, and then I would work 12 to 4 at what used to be the A&P in McCaysville. I went to school at night…”
The next few years proved to be hectic as he graduated and started teaching professionally “with a job I wasn’t even certified for.” It was January of 1989 and the new school superintendent had been elected in November and as he took office in January he left a gap in the school. To fill the Assistant Principal position the, then, Superintendent had left, they promoted the teacher of the career skills class. With the vacancy in the classroom, Henson was appointed to step in to teach the class. Half a year was spent teaching a career path and skill class to 9th graders in what Henson refers to as a “foreign world.”
The first full-time teaching position he holds was perhaps the one he was least qualified for. Henson noted his nervousness taking the state-funded program. The previous teacher had gone to the University of Georgia to receive training to fill the position. Talking with the previous teacher about the class, Henson shared his reservations about the lack of training and certification. Receiving note cards and guidance on how to handle it helped, but only so far.
Henson recalled looking at the cards and seeing tips like, “Talk about work ethic for 20 minutes.” He was stuck in a position without a firm foundation. He spent the next semester “winging it” and juggling the class with student placement in businesses. Struggling through the day to day at the time, he now looks back and says, “Apparently, I did pretty good at it.”
The interesting part was that the promotions that led him into this position similarly mirrored Henson’s own path to Superintendent one day. An omen easily looked over at the time, but glaringly obvious in hindsight. Though he wouldn’t take the direct path from Teaching to Assistant Principal to Superintendent, they did set the milestones that he would hit on his way.
He also saw plenty of doubt on his way, too. He never looked at the Superintendent position as a goal, but even maintaining a teaching position seemed bleak as he was called into the office one day and told his career class position was no longer being funded.
Thinking he was losing his job, he began considering other opportunities as well as missed options, he had just turned down a position in Cartersville where Stacy, his wife, was teaching. Worrying for no reason, Henson says he was racing through these thoughts until they finally told him they were moving him to Morganton Elementary.
Taking up a Math and Social Studies teaching at Morganton Elementary, Henson found more familiar territory in these subjects. Yet, having gotten used to the career skills, he says he still felt like he was starting over again. The years proved later to be quite fortuitous as Henson says he still has people to this day stop him and talk about their time learning from him as students. Relating back to his own school years, he admits he wasn’t the best student and he made his own bad decisions.
From situations in band and class alike, he notes that he worked hard, usually sitting in first and second chair as he played the trombone, but he still found plenty of things to get into as he, by his own confession, “made the drum major’s lives and stuff miserable.” Enjoying every opportunity he could get to goof off, it became a trend throughout his school career.
Yet, in teaching, he brought those experiences and understanding to the kids as he tailored his classes each year. He shared one story of a girl that stopped him to speak for a while. Eventually, she asked, “You don’t remember me, do you?”
Admitting that he didn’t, she replied, “Well, you really helped me a lot. I was ADD and you would let me sit at your desk.” He says she went on talking about the way he changed her life.
It seems almost common now to associate teachers with stories like these, changing people’s lives, yet, it’s not often you may think a student causing trouble would become that kind of teacher.
The effort returned in a major way as Henson was elected Teach of the Year at Morganton Elementary in only his second year. The award was a testament to his efforts and success, but also evidence of how much he had changed in his life.
“You get out of school and you work a couple of real hard jobs, you see there might be more to life than goofing off. That got me redirected and helped me get through college and get my teaching degree,” says Henson.
It was more than just awards, though. Morganton Elementary created several relationships for Henson that followed him throughout his career and his life. spending four years at Morganton made it the longest position at the point, but it led to so much more. It led to three more years of teaching at East Fannin Elementary before receiving a promotion to Assistant Principal at West Fannin Middle School.
Moving from a position as a teacher to Assistant Principal isn’t just a promotion, it is a major change into school administration. No longer dealing with individual classes of students, Henson says it becomes far more political as you get pressed between teachers and parents. You walk a tightrope as you want to support your teachers in what they do, and you want to listen to concerned parents and find that middle ground. “You have got to kind of be a buffer between them… You’re always walking a tightrope,” he said.
He served as Assistant Principal to Principal David Crawford who served as Assistant Principal to his father, Frank Henson. Mentoring him in administration, he says David was a “laid back guy” that would still “let you have it” some days. It set him on a steep learning curve. Despite the jokes and stories, he led Henson on a quick path to his own education. In a sort of ‘sink or swim’ mentality, Henson said he was given a lot more authority than he expected, but he enjoyed the job.
How much he enjoyed it was a different point. Though Henson says he has never had a job in education he hated, he did say that his year as Assistant Principal was his “least-favorite job.” Though stressing he has enjoyed his entire career, he noted that the stress and shock of transitioning from Teaching to the Administration as a more big picture job factors into the thought.
Even that wasn’t meant to last long as he moved from Assistant Principal to Principal after just one year.
Nearing the end of his first, and only, year as Assistant Principal, he was called into the office again. This time it was the school systems office as his Superintendent at the time, Morgan Arp, wanted to speak with him. As he tells the story, “He said, ‘I’m looking at restructuring the system a little bit on principals and administrators. I’m not saying this is gonna happen, but if I made you Principal at East Fannin, would that be okay?’
I said, ‘Sure, I’ve been there and I know the people fine.’
He said, ‘What about West Fannin?’
I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve been there a year, I can deal with that.’
He said, ‘What about Blue Ridge Elementary?’
I said, ‘Well, that’s the school I know the least. I’m sure if you put me in there, I could. But the other two make me feel a little more comfortable.’
So the next day I got a call, and I was principal for Blue Ridge Elementary.”
Though comical, Henson said it actually worked out great as he met two of his best colleagues there. Cynthia Panter later became an Associate Superintendent and Karen Walton later became his Assistant Superintendent. Both were teachers he met at Blue Ridge Elementary.
“Blue Ridge was really where I made a lot of later career relationships,” says Henson.
His time as Principal was also a lot easier for him as he says after the year at West Fannin he knew what he was doing and had more confidence in the position. Having ‘matured’ into the job, he says the Principal position has more latitude in decisions. Having a great staff at both schools made the job easier, but the transition was simpler also because he felt he was always second-guessing himself as an assistant principal. His maturity also gave him new outlooks on the choices and decisions made.
“I think a good administrator serves as a shield between the public and teachers who need someone in there to mediate,” he says. Molding things into a larger plan for the schools and taking views from all those who take a stake in their education, “Everybody wants what’s best for the child.”
Surrounding himself with assistant principals and administrators that were detail oriented to allow him to deal with people and focus on the ‘big picture,’ two of his favorite parts of his career as he says.
After three years at Blue Ridge Elementary, the Curriculum Director at the county office resigned. Applying on a fluke instinct, he later got a call saying he got the position. He joined the staff as K-6 Director of Curriculum alongside Sandra Mercier as 7-12 Director of Curriculum.
However, his time in the office saw much more work as he spent time covering as Transportation Director and other fill-in duties. It wasn’t until 2003 when Sandra Mercier took the office of Superintendent, according to Henson, that she named him as Assistant Superintendent and really began his time in the Superintendent position.
He had never thought about going for the position, applying, or even thinking of it. Henson said he did want to be a Principal, but the county offices were beyond his aspirations.
Largely different from transitioning from Teacher to Administrator, the transition into the Superintendent position was far easier says Henson. You’re already dealing with a lot of the same things on a single school scale, but moving to the Superintendent position crosses schools and districts. He did not there is a lot more PR involved, but nothing to the extreme change as he experienced his first year in administration.
Becoming Superintendent in 2007, he says he focused on opening the school system up and growing more transparent than it already was. Sharing information and speaking straight about his feelings allowed a certain connection with people. It seems, in truth, that he never quite outgrew some of the goofiness of his childhood as he recalls joking with colleagues and staff.
Henson says he wanted to have a good time in the office despite everything they dealt with. He pushed the staff, but they also played pranks on each other and shared moments like a school secretary embarrassing her daughter with a funny picture.
Noting one particular instance, Stacy recalls a story with finance running checks in the office. With one office member in particular who would always try to jump scare people running the check machine. Henson quickly opened the door and threw a handful of gummy bears at her. Unfortunately, a few were sucked into the machine and ruined the check run. It wasn’t a good day considering, yet the staff laughed about it and shared in the comedy.
A necessary part of the job is what Henson calls it. The lightheartedness was key to maintaining his staff. “If you stay serious a hundred percent of the time, it’s going to kill you,” he says.
The position wasn’t just laughter and jokes though, tough times came plenty enough. Not all of them were the expected issues that you might expect. Aside from the general politics that face schools daily in these times, Henson even dealt with death threats in his position. Having let people go and dealt with others careers, he admits he had that one employee’s spouse threated his life after a firing.
As he speaks about some of the hardest moments like this, it’s hard to find out how harrowing the event really was. Henson says now that it’s not a big deal, it wasn’t the only threat he had. His wife speaks a little more plainly as she confesses some days, she couldn’t tell if it was worth it for him to be the Superintendent. Yet, even she says in hindsight that she is proud of the honesty, integrity, and openness that permeated his ten years.
Additionally, dealing with things like the shootings and issues that have plagued schools in the last decade, he adds, “It’s a more stressful job than when I started 30 years ago. It’s much more stressful. There are so many things that the state expects, that locals expect, that parents expect… I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like in another 30 years.”
Henson agreed that schools have lost a lot of the innocence they used to have within the teachers and staff. As these people continue to rack their brains on following the mission to educate and keep kids safe, they take a lot of the stress off the kids as they are at school. He said, “I don’t know if it’s spelled out, but I think if you’re a good teacher, you feel that inherently.”
It also branched over into policies, with increased focus on testing and numbers, Henson said the position got a lot more into the realm of politics as you deal with the state legislature and handling the constant changes that came from the state adds another item to juggle.
As a superintendent, you don’t need state tests, as Henson says, to tell you how well a teacher teaches. “I can sit in a class for five minutes and tell you if a teacher can teach.”
In the face of everything, Henson said he wouldn’t burn any bridges about returning to education, but he’s enjoying his retirement.
Henson has already reached the “what’s next” point in his career as he retired last year. One year into retirement, he says he is just as busy as ever with his position on the Board of Tax Assessors and putting a daughter through college at the University of Georgia. On top of maintaining his own projects, he says he’s focusing on being a parent and husband and making up for time lost in his position as Superintendent.
Once he hit ten years in the office, Henson said he felt like he had done what he wanted, it was time to hand it over to someone else for their impressions and interpretations. Though retiring from his career, he didn’t fade into obscurity. With Stan Helton asking him to sit on the Board of Tax Assessors and others still seeking advice and counsel, he simply transitioned once more.
JASPER, Ga. – District Attorney Alison Sosebee offered her presentation to parents that she has been showing to students this week. As a part of the chat with the superintendent program on September 24, Sosebee and Pickens Sheriff Donnie Craig joined in to inform parents about the vaping trend and the school’s responses.
Going through the same presentation as the one she offers the students, the only alterations came when Sheriff Craig added the Drug Task Forces formal response and when Superintendent Dr. Carlton Wilson offered the school systems official reply. Following along the same lines of thought, students and parents should begin expecting full repercussions on possession, use, and sharing of vaping devices as drug paraphernalia when viable instead of being treated like possessing cigarettes.
Sosebee also released information about those who came into contact with a substance that hospitalized five in a warrant on A1 Smoke Shop. The substance, identified as “Panaca,” a synthetic cannabinoid substance that is labeled as a “Schedule I Drug.” Sosebee compared this to Methamphetamine, a “Schedule II Drug.” She went on to note that this identifies synthetic marijuana, like that found in the smoke shop, is comparatively worse than Meth.
Wilson noted that the students have also been told that the consequences of vaping in school is increasing, and additional information from Sheriff Craig noted that criminal charges of this caliber could still involve 15 years in prison in the case of Schedule I Drugs.
As seen in the video, much of the night was spent attempting to inform parents and citizens about the issue, it was noted that the school system is taking a hard stance against the trend. Continuing to point to the fact that some may or may not know what is in the vape devices they use, authorities point to the commonality of hard drugs found across the nation in these devices as reasoning to utilize the full consequences made available in both the school’s code of conduct and criminal law to dissuade students from using these devices.
Jasper, Ga – The Pickens County Board of Education hosted a no-threat lockdown today on the campus of Pickens High School.
Parents and citizens saw the Pickens County Sheriff respond to concerns saying:
We currently have a team of deputies and K-9 units participating in a controlled sweep of the Pickens High School campus. While the school is being checked, students are being placed in a non-emergency lockdown status. Students are safe and no threat exists at the school.
When questioned about the lockdown, Pickens County Schools Superintendent Dr. Carlton Wilson said the K-9 sweep was scheduled for a few weeks ago, but had to be pushed back due to scheduling conflicts with Cherokee County who supplies the K-9 units. As the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office has retired its last K-9 unit for medical reasons, Wilson stated it is a part of the agreement with Cherokee County to utilize theirs.
With the lockdown and sweep completed, Wilson informed FYN that no drugs were located during the sweep today. Though he noted it was not directly related to the rising use of vape devices, Wilson did respond to questions about the trend saying that it is a concern in the school system.
Sweeps like this is a part of the school’s enforcement of its code of conduct as well as state and federal law. Though Wilson said there is more going on behind the scenes in the system’s response to the rising vape concerns and to school security in general, he declined to release details saying, “There is a number of things that we are doing and things that we are working with the Sheriff’s Office, some of that we just can’t publicize at the moment.”
More information on these steps like the K-9 sweeps and other programs the school already has in place over its years in operation can be found at the upcoming Monday, September 24, day of events involving the Office of the Sheriff, the District Attorney, and Pickens School district as they hold a meeting for parents for information and the ‘Chat with the Superintendent’ at Pickens High School at 6 p.m.
Wilson went on to note that the school system is being forced to change the way it views vaping devices. While he notes that it is against the law for underage kids to possess cigarettes and vaping devices and they have enforced the law, he did state that the school system may have, at times, not utilized the most extreme forms of discipline available in every situation involving the use of nicotine. He went on to say, “Now that this added ability of being able to vape just about anything, that brings it to a whole different level.”
As part of the school’s efforts to inform parents and students about the dangers that vapes present with not knowing what is in them, the board is working with the District Attorney and the Sheriff’s Office. Wilson said, “We may have looked at vaping in the past as more of a replacement for a cigarette, and not as a delivery device for drugs… Going forward, we probably would.”
He added later, “We’re going to have to really start disciplining to the fullest extent that we can, given to us by our Code of Conduct or either by the Law to keep our children safe.”
Ellijay, Ga. – An incident report from the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office confirmed reports of a student “blacking out” and suffering seizures after inhaling a substance from a SMOK Vape device.
The male student was hospitalized from the incident and later released. The incident, however, did prompt officials to call in K-9 units to search for other drugs. Authorities found two additional SMOK Vapes with one testing positive for containing marijuana. While the
original vape has been tested, no official response is available identifying the substance in the original device.
However, according to the incident report, it was reported that the student was told by a fellow classmate that “there was a vape in the boy’s restroom and he should go smoke some of it.”
With the investigation in Gilmer CID’s (Criminal Investigations Division) hands, no names of the students nor additional information is available.
However, FYN spoke with Gilmer County Charter School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs who confirmed the incident is part of a larger problem facing the schools today. She told FYN that last year, the school system confiscated eight vape devices over the course of the entire year. This year, they have already collected 25 devices since the beginning of school a few weeks ago.
Each instance results in disciplinary action for the student as it is a violation of the code of conduct, according to Downs, but as the rise in using other substances in the devices continues, the charges against students get far more serious as they deal with controlled substances.
Downs went on to say that she has spoken with other Superintendents to see if Gilmer is alone in the rise of vape usage. Though she declined to name which counties she had spoken with, she did confirm that Gilmer was not alone.
Confirming the rise in popularity of these devices in several counties, the Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney B. Alison Sosebee made a press release stating, “Within the last week, several teens in Pickens, Gilmer and Fannin counties have experienced medical emergencies as a result of “vaping,” by use of electronic cigarettes. These medical emergencies necessitated treatment by both EMS and treatment at hospitals.”
Many of the vape devices found being used are very small handheld devices easily concealed within one’s palm or bag, like a purse or book bag, or even in one’s pocket as several designs become thinner and shorter. Downs confirmed they have found Juul brand vapes and last weeks incident report confirmed the males vape was a SMOK brand. Sosebee notes, “Some e-cigarettes look like regular cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. Some look like USB flash drives, pens, and other everyday items.”
As the use of vapes themselves are intended to be used with nicotine for adult smokers, the rising concern is the ability to swap out the common “juice” for homemade cocktails or drugs. Downs confirmed that reports have been made of students crushing Adderall and other things to make the “juice.”
According to Juul’s website, “These alternatives contain nicotine, which has not been shown to cause cancer but can create dependency. We believe that these alternatives are not appropriate for people who do not already smoke.”
Sosebee also commented on other substances that have been found in the devices saying, “The liquid that is inhaled, known commonly as “vape juice,” can contain any number of substances: it can contain flavoring; it can contain nicotine; it can also contain drugs and illegal substances such as THC oil, fentanyl and LSD. Of great concern, the user may or may not know what they are inhaling, what their reaction will be to the substances, what they are exposing others to and may erroneously believe that they are simply inhaling “harmless water vapor.” There is nothing harmless about what is occurring.”
Downs went on to say that some parents may have purchased vapes for their kids not knowing that they are swapping out the contents. The feeling was echoed by Sosebee as she called for parents to “be aware of the dangers of vaping and e-cigarettes.”
With concerns rising from parents, administration, and law enforcement alike, investigations are continuing as programs and events are attempting to educate the community about the devices and their popularity.
Downs said the Gilmer Administration is stepping up efforts in educating and building awareness in their staff about what to look for and also to educate our parents in the community saying, “I feel like there is a real lack of knowledge and lack of understanding among our community in relation to this… This has blown up overnight to the point that I feel like its almost epidemic.”
JASPER, Ga. – It’s not Veterans’ Day, but you might think it was if you were in Pickens County on August 9 as they finally dedicated their long-awaited Veterans Memorial next to Lee Newton Park.
Situated at the edge of the parking lot on Stegall Drive, the Memorial opened for the public with an official dedication at 11:00 a.m. The dedication saw the colors of each military branch set in honor at the site while veterans and members of the American Legion hung the American Flag over the memorial. While several people offered words to sanctify the grounds, they added an offering of the 21-Gun Salute and “Taps,” as well.
The ceremony’s impact was only dwarfed by the size of the crowd that attended the day to offer thanks and respect to those who served. Most of them are veterans or have veterans in their family, a fact noted when a speaker asked these people to raise their hands during his speech.
One of those veterans is Al Parson Larson. At 90-years-old, Larson says he served on the USS Astoria, a light cruiser, in World War II. The day’s events held a certain somberness throughout, but meeting Larson punctuated the event as he confessed it would be the last time he would ever wear his uniform. It has been 70 years since Larson last wore his uniform in the line of duty. He says he has reached the point where it is just too difficult to get it on. He chuckled a moment before saying, “At least it still fits.”
Attending the event with his son, Larson was one of the few attending the event in uniform, and hundreds more who bore caps, shirts, and more signifying their service. But this photo, according to him, will be one of the last photos ever taken of him dressed out.
Veterans Memorial Park holds 5 smaller monuments in individual bricked in areas becoming part of the larger memorial that hosts bricks of honor for those who wish to purchase them in order to help build, expand, and maintain the memorial. Hoping to extend these bricks across the hillside, they confirmed they are still selling the bricks and will continue selling them indefinitely.
One speaker noted that 1% of Americans have served in the military, but looking at Pickens County, 12% of those in the county are veterans. Looking at this statistic, it has long been a need to honor that large portion of the community. But the honor is for all those who serve. The memorial has been a long time needed and a long time coming, but today it is finished. It stands as this county’s tribute for those in service.
Summing up the day’s feelings, John Trammell, President and CEO of Community Bank of Pickens County, said, “Vets, thank you for bravely doing what you were called to do so we can safely do what we are free to do.”
Make sure to check out more photos of the day at FYN’s Facebook Page.
JASPER, Ga. – Addressing the 2019 LMIG (Local Maintenance & Improvement Grant), the Pickens County Board of Commissioners Work Session discussed the project at their August Work Session as to what they could accomplish on the list.
The list, used for the discussion, totaled $2,083,467 estimated in materials cost for every one of the forty-one roads included. The list is prioritized according to Pickens County Commission Chairman Rob Jones.
While the board estimates close to $577,000 from the grant, they also noted the increasing prices of asphalt saying the slight increase in funding over last year would not even cover the cost difference.
Jones said in the meeting they would be looking to fund the difference in the LMIG and the rest of their paving would come from SPLOST. However, the list as it stands is for discussion and subject to change before their final decisions coming at the August 16 Regular Session.
The list as it stands is as follows:
JASPER, Ga – Arrested on June 24 for charges including cruelty to children and false imprisonment, Neil Roger Farrell and Janet Lynn Farrell met for a hearing on setting Bond for the couple pending their criminal case.
Facing allegations of confining their daughter Olivia to a bedroom with limited restroom break and periods where she was simply given a bucket as well as allegations of striking Olivia on her feet with industrial size glue sticks, the Farrells have already attended a bond hearing in late June. At that time the defense asked for and was granted a continuance for the case. The court reconvened at the Pickens County Courthouse, Superior Court, under Judge Frank Mills on July 18 at 10 a.m.
Lasting until after 6 p.m., the case’s arguments centered on the possibility of setting a bond for the Farrells or not. The prosecution requested denial of any bond while the defense requested a $50,000 bond for each defendant. Both Neil and Janet are being represented separately in the case by Scott T. Poole, of Grisham & Poole, and J. Daran Burns, of Burns Law Group, P.C.
District Attorney for the Appalachian Circuit, B. Alison Sosebee, presented the case against the Farrells with two witnesses, Captain April Killian and Detective Michael Jaques. The state contends that evidence indicates that Olivia Farrell, adopted daughter of the defendants was confined to her room with the door lock reversed, so she could not leave at will, as well as a contact alarm on the door that would sound if it was opened.
They also allege that Olivia was beaten on her buttocks and feet with 10-inch, industrial glue sticks. An allegation that Sosebee says was corroborated by Neil Farrell’s own admission as well as from the couple’s other daughters.
After Olivia went missing, officers were told by the Farrells that Olivia suffers from a disorder known as Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)as well as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) since before they adopted her, this plays into the charge of Exploitation and Intimidation of Disabled Adults.
With the bond hearing focused directly on the idea of setting a bond for the defendants in the case, the day focused on if the courts should allow the Farrells out of jail on bond until the official case commences.
One of the prosecutions main points for denying bond was concern over the defendants tampering with evidence. With evidence of video footage collected in the house from security cameras set up to monitor Olivia’s room, the prosecution stated that the Farrells had removed everything from Olivia’s room as punishment for her stealing her sisters ipad. However, once they discovered her missing, they went back to the room and put everything they had removed back into the room before searching and eventually having a gate guard call 911 to report the missing person. They claim this as the Farrells having already tampered with evidence as they took time to return all the furniture and items to her room before contacting the police, further delaying their own search as well as an official police response and search for the child.
Further, the prosecution offered up a witness, Cpt. April Killian of the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office. Killian has been a part of the search and investigation and testified that when officers found Olivia, she said she did not want to go back home. As the police began interviewing her, they began discovering points of the case. Killian also testified that when she returned to the residence on June 24, the cameras in Olivia’s room had been moved.
When the Farrells arrived at the Pickens County Detention Center after Olivia had been found and were waiting in the lobby, Killian noticed the couple were utilizing their electronic devices. After getting a search warrant for the devices, officers confiscated these devices and downloaded the devices. Yielding 23,000 pages of data in messages and photos and other data, Killian noted a few of the messages found. Later in the case, investigations into the phones usage at the time the Farrells were at the jail revealed they were looking at GPS monitors and ankle monitors.
Continuing the argument of tampering with evidence, the prosecution points to an email sent from Janet Farrell to Ashlyn, the Farrells oldest daughter. The email instructs several things in an itemized list. One of these items instructs the daughter to, as read in the courtroom, “go onto my FB account and deactivate it, and if anything on there is bad due to news on my wall delete for me…” The email also gives information and passwords to accounts including the Arlo Camera account, the security cameras placed in Olivia’s room.
Killian also testified that when she turned on one of the Farrells laptop seized during the investigation, an email program popped up. She noticed the number of emails in the inbox decreasing as she looked at the screen. As if the emails were being deleted. Killian says she turned off the laptop and waited “a substantial amount of time” and then turned it back on. At that time, the loss of messages did not continue.
Moving past the concerns of evidence tampering, Sosebee told the court that the prosecution was also concerned with the possible flight risks of the Farrells if bonded out before the trial.
The prosecution’s second witness, Detective Michael Jaques testified that he dealt with four search warrants into the Farrell’s home. When he entered the home on July 6, Jaques said he noticed the office was not in the same way it was on previous searches. He noticed a black backpack on the floor open. Inside he found checkbooks and passports for the family except for Olivia.
While he was unaware of who had been in the office and gotten into the pack, a later witness, Jezekiel Vanderdecker, admitted he had gone to the house at the request of Neil Farrell to get a checkbook and glasses out of that pack. The state alluded to this being additional evidence to tampering as well as a show of intent and means to flee the country if allowed a bond. However, in Vanderdecker’s testimony, he could not recall if he had seen passports in the bag or not.
The state also put forth financial records for the Farrells as evidence of substantial means for leaving the country. The financial reports presented for observation by the court confirmed the Farrels income into the hundreds of thousands over the last two years as well as a brokerage account close to $1 million. They also presented tax assessors reports on the Farrells property into the hundreds of thousands. Additional reports indicated foreign income and “ties” to foreign countries that could indicate aid in escaping the county.
The prosecution noted that the Farrell’s eldest daughter is also a missionary in Papua New Guinea as well as several trips the Farrells had taken during their life as expertise in travel and previous experience in traveling to Australia and other locations. Stating that the numerous trips and connections to the countries could also make it easier to flee, the prosecution adamantly asserted that the flight risk of the Farrells was substantial.
The state also alluded to concerns about the Farrells intimidating witnesses and affecting testimonies. While they indicated much of the allegations against the Farrells including the use of the industrial gluesticks that had been used on Olivia. They also noted that other daughters had corroborated the stories. While it was not stated specifically, the state could call upon these daughters to testify in the trial about these allegations and their witness to the actions.
A joint defense was presented during the case on behalf of Scott Poole and Daran Burns during the day. Providing six witnesses of their own, the defenses main contention in favor of bond was an overwhelming show of support from the Farrells community as to their character and trustworthiness to appear in trial after a bonding out of jail. Also responding to many of the points the prosecution had made, the defense presented their case to say that the Farrells were, in fact, so rooted in their community spiritually, interpersonally, and financially, that they would never think of running, but needed the time and space to prepare their case with access to their lawyers not limited by the detention center.
Responding to the state’s concerns of tampering with evidence, the defense questioned Killian what the Sheriff’s Office had left to do in the investigation. Pointing to the electronic devices and data that Killian said was still being gone through, the defense asked Killian where the data was located. Killian responded by saying that most of the data was on hard drives and flash drives. The defense suggested these devices were in police custody and out of reach of the Farrells. Additionally, they noted that the Arlo camera footage account had had its passwords changed by authorities and could not be accessed by the Farrells.
They noted the email the prosecution presented with Janet instructing her daughter to deactivate her Facebook account saying that the email was a preemptive move to protect herself against social media. They stated that the deactivation of an account does not delete the account, and they noted that the email was simply asking the daughter to delete any posts that may have been mean or hurtful words against her. It was not an attempt to tamper, but rather an attempt to protect her reputation.
Killian also stated that the continuing investigation would likely result in further interviews being necessary with those involved in the case. A fact the prosecution suggested could be an opportunity for the Farrells to affect or intimidate such testimony. The defense’s responded that most of the people involved had already been interviewed and if new information was found, it would be reinterviewing people that have, at this point, already gone on record with recorded testimonies that they cannot change. They continued saying that most of the witnesses of the prosecution would be officers, suggesting that they could not be intimidated by the Farrells.
As for the financial status of the Farrells, Poole noted that simple means of escape cannot be assumed as a substantial threat of escape. The defense went on to say that the success of Neil’s business and the Farrells financial status were actually roots tieing them here. The prosecution’s suggestion of foreign ties because of $5,000 in foreign income was a ludicrous assumption without supporting evidence. The finances also indicate over $100,000 in charitable giving. The defense even called a witness, Joel Barrere, pastor of Life Bible Church in Holly Springs, who affirmed the Farrells were faithful attendees as well as faithful givers to the church.
The defense asserted that the financial means available would not have been so heavily spent on their defense, such as hiring two law firms to represent them, if they had plans to flee.
Providing 5 other witnesses to affirm their belief in the Farrell’s connections and efforts in the community, the defense also offered numerous written statements to add weight to the assertion that the Farrells are actually grounded into their community both financially and interpersonally.
Marshall Thomas, a fellow church member at one time, noted he also had a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder. He testified in his time spent with the Farrells never caused him concern and called them “good, loving parents.” He went on to testify that he had never seen them discipline any of their children without cause.
He did testify that corporal punishment was not a good idea with his child suffering from RAD, saying that the child would not respond well to it. He noted that kids with RAD could potentially develop deep or inappropriate relationships with people. He noted that it would be a great cause for concern if Olivia was walking alone across the county.
Asking each of the witnesses if they had any reason to believe the Farrells would not show up for court if let out on bond, if they had any reason to believe the Farrells would intimidate witnesses or commit a crime, and if they would have concerns with continuing their relationships with the Farrells. With all six confirming their trust and connections with the Farrells, the defense set their point of the quality of the Farrell’s integrity in the community.
The prosecution revealed details of the allegations to the witnesses asking if it caused the witnesses concern to learn of the details, an action that the defense pointed to in their argument saying the prosecution twisted witness testimonies with unproven allegations. They continued saying that the Farrells were more than willing to voluntarily surrender their passports and submit to any conditions the court would place on bond.
At the end of the day, Judge Frank Mills returned to the court with his ruling on the bond hearing. He did preempt his ruling with explanations saying that he could see the Farrells possibly tampering with evidence or thwarting the investigations, but not so far as to intimidate witnesses that are now protected. However, he would not deny bond on that point alone. He went on to say that he could not find that they would not likely flee. He stated he based this decision not just on means and capability, but on past experience and passports readily available. He did state, “I don’t know of many defendants that I’ve had that have more knowledge about how to do things than these defendants, both in terms of knowledge of computers and finding information about computers and propensity to do so… also in having the experience in traveling outside the country, the connections outside the country, and the passports readily available.”
Judge Mills went on to say that he believed that the fears of tampering with evidence and fears of leaving the country could be alleviated with conditions on the bond. Stating “being out is better than being in,” Judge Mills ruled to set bond at $100,000 each for Neil and Janet Farrell, but also with set conditions set: Surrender Passports, no internet access, GPS monitoring, home confinement, and no contact allowed with the victim or witnesses for the state. The Judge did note that he would alleviate the no internet access after 60-days with the ability of either side to request a change later.
There will be details worked out among the attorney on how to deal with the internet access restrictions and how to have Janet taken to a doctor for existing medical conditions.