City boards restructuring draws criticism

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BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – An ordinance to restructure the city’s Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals was approved by the Blue Ridge City Council during its May 8 meeting Tuesday.

Last month, a first reading of the ordinance was presented during the council meeting. As explained then by City Attorney James Balli, the ordinance would condense both the Zoning Board of Appeals and the city Planning Commission from seven members to five members each. Balli further explained each city council member would appoint one member to serve on each board and appointees would be allowed to serve on both boards, if the council member so desired. According to Balli, the ordinance would amend an already established city ordinance to be compliant with the City Charter and state law.

After a second reading this month, the ordinance was approved unanimously. According to Balli, the council’s appointments are Gene Holcombe to serve as Councilwoman Robbie Cornelius’ appointment to both the Planning Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals, Cindy Trimble to serve as Councilwoman Rhonda Haight’s appointment on both boards, Mark Engledow and Angelina Powell to serve as Councilman Harold Herndon’s appointments to the Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals, respectively, Rick Skelton to serve as Councilman Nathan Fitts’ appointment to both boards, and Thomas Kay and Michael Eaton to serve as Councilman Ken Gaddis’ appointments to the Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals, respectively.

At the end of the meeting, Eaton, existing chairman of city Zoning Board of Appeals, spoke to the council concerning the changes to the two boards.

“What I have a problem with is we’ve basically eliminated three positions on the Zoning Board of Appeals tonight for three different people who have put in a lot of time and effort for their part and were not contacted or told any of this was going to happen,” Eaton stated.

“John Soave, Ralph Garner, Brendan Doyle – when are their terms up?” Eaton asked.

To this, Mayor Donna Whitener responded, “Their terms are up as of today.”

“I feel like we’ve all been left in the dark. This has been done very disrespectfully,” Eaton added, saying he was only contacted by Gaddis who notified Eaton he would be the councilman’s appointment. “I think it’s been done very poorly.”

A second reading for an Illumination Ordinance amendment was also presented and approved at this month’s meeting. The ordinance, according to its wording, makes it “unlawful for any person, organization of persons, or entity to willfully tamper with, illegally project light upon, mutilate or deface any City personal or real property, including, without limitation, trees, other plants, buildings, drive-in theaters screens, vehicles or other equipment for lighting, firefighting, police protection or water and sewer installation and maintenance.” First-time violators of the ordinance now face a civil fine of at least $500 and subsequent violations are punishable by a civil fine of at least $500 and up to 90 days in jail.

An amendment to change the rules of procedure at council meetings to allow for more public commentary on action items was approved unanimously by the council. As explained by Balli, the amendment will now allow five sections of public commentary at two minutes per person on a first come, first serve basis for any item requiring a vote from the council. Following the end of the public commentary, the council would then vote on the item. The amendment also allows for individuals to speak on any late additions to the agenda without having to request ahead of time to be on the agenda to speak themselves.

Jeff Stewart, city zoning supervisor, presented bids and estimates for repairs to the roof at City Hall. The council unanimously approved and awarded two bids: one from GoCo for $6,650 for the demolition and removal of the bank drive-through and another from Trademark Coatings for $35,427.50 for the repair of the main roof of the building. According to Trademark’s estimate and scope of work, the cost will include pressure washing and reuse of the existing shingles, which were deemed to still be in good condition, and application of a urethane foam base coat, which is designed to create a seamless roofing system.

The city received $20,165.00 in insurance claims for damage sustained to city hall during a storm in the spring of 2017.

The council unanimously approved an allotment of up to $10,000 for remodel of the city police department building on Church Street. In February, the council approved a previous amount up to $10,000 for needed repairs and renovation of the police department. Mayor Whitener explained after initial work to the building began, further problems and issues were also revealed, but she anticipated that the further work should cost under the additional $10,000.

Police Chief Johnny Scearce stated further repairs and upgrades to the building, built in 1936, will include repairs to a corner of the roof, replacement of gutters and fascia boards, and upgrades to the lights and electrical wiring system. “One thing led into another,” Chief Scearce said of the building renovation.

Replacement of the slide deck at the city pool was discussed after the city received a quote from Miracle Recreation Equipment Company in the amount of $6,009.86 to replace the slide. Councilwoman Rhonda Haight questioned the decision to replace the slide considering the uncertain future of the city pool and potential liability issues with the slide.

“Considering we don’t really know the future of the pool, do we just take it down for right now or spend $6,000?” Haight said. “I would suggest just take the slide out, (because) first of all, (it is) a liability, and second, because we don’t know (the pool’s) future.”

Whitener stated parts to repair the pool thus far for the upcoming season have amounted to under $5,000, which was considerably less than originally anticipated. The mayor seemly advocated for the replacement of the slide stating the slide is heavily used by children at the pool and removal of the slide would require additional concrete work.

“Well, I would have to agree with Rhonda,” Councilman Nathan Fitts said. “To keep spending money with the unknown future of the pool, to me, doesn’t make financial sense.”

After further discussion, the council approved for the slide to be taken down.

In public commentary, Gene Holcombe spoke on behalf of the Blue Ridge Business Association and inquired of the city’s progress with adding downtown public restrooms and parking space. Mayor Whitener told Holcombe Councilman Herndon had recently suggested the idea of building a small restroom unit near the large public parking lot off of Mountain Street as early as this summer using detainee labor and engineering assistance from Councilman Gaddis’ All Choice Plumbing company. As for the parking situation, Whitener told Holcombe the parking study, which was approved in the council’s April meeting, was still in the process of being completed.

After an executive session, Councilwoman Haight made a motion to “resolve a claim involving 0.03 acres with Campbell Camp Investments LLC and to give the mayor authority to sign a quick claim for that property.” After a second from Gaddis, the motion passed unanimously.

The council approved three invoices from the city’s water system engineering firm, Carter & Sloope:

  • In the amount of $13,092.50 for various engineering services, Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) permitting for water line work on state Route 515 near BB&T bank and on state Route 60 in Mineral Bluff and plan reviews of the Fannin County Agriculture and Public Safety Complex buildings;
  • In the amount of $11,639.10 for continued monitoring of metals and temperature at the city’s wastewater treatment facility; and
  • In the amount of $11,363.75 for providing preliminary cost estimates to GDOT for proposed utility relocation along state Route 5 as part of the forthcoming highway expansion.

 

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Author

Jason Beck

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

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