Syfan out as city attorney, Chief Scearce likely soon to follow

News, Videos

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Attorney James Balli, of the Marietta law firm of Sams, Larkin, Huff & Balli, was appointed Tuesday, Jan. 9, to replace David Syfan as city attorney during the first Blue Ridge City Council of the new year and administration. Balli’s appointment was approved by the council four to one with incumbent Post 1 Council Member Harold Herndon voting against the appointment.

Mayor Donna Whitener also explained Balli’s rate would be $175 an hour with no retainer fee, and only four applications for the position were received by the city.

Additionally, a decision was made later in the meeting to begin proceedings to replace Blue Ridge City Police Chief Johnny Scearce. After Whitener asked Balli to explain the council’s options according to the city charter, Balli stated the council basically had two: either to “nominate and appoint a permanent police chief or you can make a motion … to allow someone to act as an interim chief until such time as the mayor and the city council approve a permanent chief.”

Interim Blue Ridge Police Chief Johnny Scearce, right, speaks with local resident prior to Tuesday’s city council meeting.

When Whitener asked if it was possible to have a vacancy, Balli stated he did not recommend this.

After this, newly appointed Post 3 Council Member Kenneth Gaddis made a motion for Scearce to serve as interim police chief until the mayor and council are able to find a permanent police chief. After a second from new Post 5 Council Member Nathan Fitts, the council voted unanimously to approve the transition.

The two moves followed the oaths of office from incumbents Mayor Whitener and Council Members Herndon and Rhonda Thomas-Haight as well as incoming Council Members Gaddis, Fitts and Robbie Cornelius.

Thomas-Haight was also voted to serve as mayor pro tempore of Blue Ridge. Other appointments included Kelsey Ledford and Alicia Stewart remaining as city clerk and city treasurer, respectively, Robert Sneed as municipal court judge, Joseph Hudson as prosecuting attorney of court appointments and Welch, Walker & Associates as the city’s designated auditor.

Blue Ridge Mayor Donna Whitener, left, takes the oath of office as her daughter, Kristen, holds the Bible.

Local architect David Goodspeed was also approved to serve as interim building inspector for the city’s Zoning and Land Development department. Thomas-Haight stated in her motion that Goodspeed would serve the city on a limited basis, working between 12 to 16 hours a week on average at the rate of $100 an hour.

Continue to follow this story on FetchYourNews as more details and the video from the meeting are made available.

[Featured image: Mayor Donna Whitener, left, new City Attorney James Balli and Mayor Pro Tempore and Council Member Rhonda Thomas-Haight conduct business during the Tuesday, Jan. 9, Blue Ridge City Council meeting.]

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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.

Blue Ridge City Council elect talks with BKP

GMFTO, Politics

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Members of the newly elected 2018 Blue Ridge City Council joined BKP to talk Friday during Good Morning from Blue Jeans Pizza.

Incumbent City Council Member Rhonda Thomas along with council members elect Robbie Cornelius, Nathan Fitts and Kenneth Gaddis candidly discussed their goals, plans and hopes for city improvement in the next four years.  Incumbent Mayor Donna Whitener and City Council Member Harold Herndon were unable to attend due to other obligations, but both expressed their gratitude to and appreciation of voters after their respective elections to third terms Tuesday.

The open forum began with each having the opportunity to thank the voters and share their own thoughts of the upcoming council.

“I’m really excited. There’s a lot of excitement here in the community,” Gaddis said. “Even after the election was over – going out into the community still talking with people – they’re excited. They’re excited about this council.”

Regarding the nature of the election itself, Cornelius stated she was proud of the newly elected members for avoiding some of the negativity that existed during the campaigns.

Thomas thanked not only those who voted for her but those who did not: “I’m still here for you … I want to make this a term that we can get a lot of things done.”

Describing the excitement in the community as “overwhelming,” Fitts added, “I wish we could start tomorrow … I’m ready to unbutton my sleeves, roll them up and get to work.”

The diversity of the council was one of the topics BKP addressed with the council elect. Gaddis spoke of the differences of experiences and backgrounds of the new council but saw this as a strength. While agreeing with Gaddis, Fitts admitted he knows there will be some disagreement on issues at times. However, he stated this disagreement would be met in a respectful manner. “I don’t think any of us have an issue with stating our opinion … (The citizens) are tired of the fighting and the bickering … I don’t think you’re going to see any of that in the next four years. We certainly won’t ‘take it outside,'” Fitts said, citing a comment passed at a City Council meeting earlier this year.

BKP added that he saw a “good balance” with the new council and cited Herndon’s unbiased voting record as another positive moving into the next term.

When asked about issues that have plagued the city over the last two terms, veteran council member Thomas said she wants to see a long-term solution to the downtown parking situation addressed by the new council. Thomas again put forth the idea of building a parking deck to alleviate congestion. She also said downtown flooding was another major concern facing the new council.

“This has to be resolved. This is a major issue when people’s homes are flooding,” Thomas explained.

Among other ideas for the future of the council and the city, Cornelius stated she would like to initiate a quarterly town hall meeting with the citizens of Blue Ridge, and Fitts said the council will be looking into grant options to provide funding for infrastructure improvement. Gaddis also added “re-evaluat(ing) the city attorney (David Syfan), right out of the gate” would be another concern the council will soon address.

Adding his thoughts, BKP provided three suggestions, or “requests,” to the incoming council. First, he suggested staggering the elections, having an election for three council members in two years followed by elections of the other two council members and the mayor two years later. Next, he recommended looking at either a strong-mayor as city CEO system or a weak-mayor system along with a city manager. Currently, Blue Ridge operates under a weak-mayor system without a city manager in which the mayor has no authority outside the council. Lastly, BKP encouraged the new council to give more voice to the citizens in public meetings.

For the entire segment featuring the newly elected Blue Ridge City Council on Good Morning from Blue Jeans Pizza with BKP, watch FYN TV. And for up-to-date coverage of the council and the city of Blue Ridge, continue to follow FetchYourNews.com.

 

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

 

Author

Jason Beck

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

Can Jane Whaley Still Run For City Council?

News, Politics

BLUE RIDGE, GA – As the Blue Ridge City elections moved into full swing, questions arose about the eligibility of candidates running for office. On Monday, September 25, 2017, council member candidate Jane Whaley faced a hearing to determine the legitimacy of her bid for City Council Post One.

Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, City Council, Election 2017, Jane Whaley, Post One, Attorney David Syfan, Attorney Frank Moore, Mark Clemmons

City Attorney David Syfan, Attorney Frank Moore, and Poll Manager Barbie Gerald set up for hearing.

Whaley, a long time business owner in downtown Blue Ridge and active participant at Blue Ridge City Council meetings, decided this was the year to run for council, but questions arose as to Whaley’s permanent residence which led to an investigation and ultimately a hearing to decide the matter.

The hearing was scheduled for 10:00 A.M. on Monday morning, and supporters of Whaley filled City Hall to be present for her hearing. The hearing was to be held in a front room of the City Hall building with little room for supporters to be in attendance.

However, Whaley’s attorney, Frank Moore, asked that the hearing be moved to a larger area, but City Attorney David Syfan declined.

Moore replied, “As I understand it, the Hearing Officer here is Ms. Gerald.” He went on, “I believe that Ms. Gerald should be making these decisions. Now, if you are going to counsel her on that, I don’t know that I can stop that, but I think she should be the one that answers the question.”

After receiving counsel from Syfan, Gerald decided not to move the meeting. It was discovered that Syfan had anticipated the supporters and arranged ahead of time with Assistant Poll Manager Rebecca Harkins to conduct a lottery for the remaining six seats in the room.

Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, City Council, Election 2017, Jane Whaley, Post One, Attorney David Syfan, Attorney Frank Moore, Mark Clemmons

Supporters of Whaley filled the room.

Feeling that this was a biased move against Whaley and noting that it was a public hearing, Moore told supporters to come into the room. One by one supporters filled the room carrying their own chair and seeming unfazed by Syfan’s objection to that many people being in the room.

The argument for the legitimacy of Whaley’s residence depends on the interpretation of the law. Syfan cited that in order to be a resident a person must occupy the home in which they are claiming. Moore argued that Georgia law says that residency is subjective, and it is the intent to live in a home that qualifies the person as a resident.

The City presented their evidence first. Numerous documents were submitted that showed a previous address of Whaley, including a driver’s license with an address that is in Fannin County but outside city limits.

Among the documents was a complaint filed to the Poll Manager from a citizen regarding concerns of Whaley’s residence. Moore motioned for this document to be dismissed.
He noted that nowhere in the note did it mention Whaley by name, nor was it signed. Poll Manager Gerald also confirmed the the complaint had been filed after September 8, which was the final day to file such notices.

After conferring with Syfan about the legalities of the complaint, Gerald decided to keep the note in evidence to have a complete file, but it would not be referenced in her final decision.

Syfan called two witnesses to support evidence of his case.  The first witness called was Jane Whaley. Syfan presented numerous documents associated with Whaley that displayed an address outside of city limits.

He asked Whaley about the amount of time she spent at the apartment located on East Main Street. Whaley answered that while she has never slept there, she is there on a daily basis and has hosted get togethers as well as just having friends over for visits.

Whaley explained the home her and her husband own at the lake is not geared for someone who is getting older. She claimed that the apartment downtown was meant to be their retirement home and was built as such with wider door ways and level access.

Whaley stated that the only obstacle that had prevented her and her husband from moving into the home was a halt to construction until a variance could be obtained.

Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, City Council, Election 2017, Jane Whaley, Post One, Attorney David Syfan, Attorney Frank Moore, Mark Clemmons

Street Supervisor Mark Clemmons was called as a witness.

The second witness saw City Street Supervisor Mark Clemmons come to the table for testimony. Clemmons had been to the property to conduct an inspection while in the early stages of construction.

He acknowledged that he had known that there was intent for an apartment to be built on site, but said, “I didn’t know who was going to live there.”

Whaley’s attorney Frank Moore presented evidence in Whaley’s defense. He, too, presented numerous documents showing the East Main Street property as her current address instead of property owned by Whaley outside of city limits.

Many affidavits were read on Jane Whaley’s behalf. Some of these came from friends, others from designers and contractors, all concurred that Whaley had planned on making the apartment her residence. Many of the affidavits confirmed that these were in fact Whaley’s plans for the property for at least two years.

Moore also pointed out that both Jane Whaley and her husband Bill Whaley are registered voters in the city as of 2015. He stated, “To me that should end the inquiry.”

Syfan closed his case stating that Whaley had failed to physically reside at the apartment located on East Main Street. He commended Whaley on her honesty and said, “She would make a great councilmember in 2021.”

Moore revisited that the proof of residency is in intent. In closing he cited an example of a person about to move into a home, but their home burning down. He stated that that is essentially what happened with the Whaley’s when construction was forced to a halt.

Both Syfan and Moore urged Poll Manager Barbie Gerald to reach a decision before adjourning, but Gerald declined stating that she would like time to closely review all of the evidence.

Moore made one final motion before adjourning, asking that Syfan not discuss or give legal advice to Gerald without his presence before the decision was made. Moore felt that this would be a conflict of interest and feared that it would create bias against Whaley.

Syfan declined stating that his job as City Attorney is to advise any city employee. In a brief heated exchange over that matter, Syfan stated to Moore, “I will advocate whether your are there or not.”

Gerald agreed with Moore on the matter, and stated that she would not seek counsel from Syfan until a decision was made.

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

Blue Ridge Taxpayers Pay Over $35,000 for Angie Arp’s Legal Follies

News

The final bill is in for the Jarrad & Davis investigation into the Blue Ridge City Council and government -$35,105.99. This is not the only legal fees that the Blue Ridge taxpayers are paying for Council Member Angie Arp.  Taxpayers are also footing the bill for Ms. Arp’s counsel and representation in the upcoming Ada Street lawsuit.

Ms. Arp initiated the $35,105.99 Jarrard & Davis investigation to determine if Mayor Whitener is a legal resident of Blue Ridge and can legally be the mayor.  The legal documents attesting to Mayor Whiteners’ long-term residency at at 266 Orvin Lance Connector, in a loft dwelling above her Town & County Furniture store are so strong that Jarrard & Davis pointed out the ridiculousness of trying to prove Mayor Whitener lived elsewhere.   They said that the only way to dispel the rumors is to hire private investigators and “stake out” the Mayor following her from work to home every night for a period of weeks or to subpoena friends and relatives to give sworn testimony about where the Mayor spends the night.

The upcoming Ada Street LLC lawsuit is specifically against Ms. Arp’s actions as a City Council member and her unethical interference with the zoning decision against the Ada Street development.  Council Members Bruce Park and Rodney Kendall were implicated in the original Ada Street proceedings.  They were found not guilty.  The upcoming lawsuit is specifically about whether Ms. Arp was disqualified from voting in the Ada Street rezoning request due to state rules surrounding unethical voting in zoning decisions.  The second item is if Ms. Arp should receive legal immunity since she voted on zoning as part of her responsibility as a City Council Member.

Up to now City Attorney David Syfan has represented Blue Ridge and Ms. Arp in court.  Mr. Syfan charges an hourly rate for his work for Blue Ridge. He imagines that he has spent over 100 hours with this case.  Invoices for Mr. Syfan work have not been made public. In the upcoming lawsuit, Ms. Arp will also be represented by an attorney for Georgia Municipal Association.  Blue Ridge has their liability insurance through this organization.

If Ms. Arp and thus the city loses the lawsuit, the city will be on the hook for even more, high-priced legal expenses due to Ms. Arp’s behavior and decision-making as a Blue Ridge City Council member.

 

 

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Blue Ridge Approves New Water Tank

Featured Stories, News

The Blue Ridge City Council passed a resolution last week to approve and designate the location of the Sunset Mountain Water Tank. (more…)

Author

MG

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