Blue Ridge receives short-term parking relief at council meeting

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BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – In addition to taking the oaths of office and appointing several city positions, the Blue Ridge City Council addressed a number of business items during its meeting Tuesday, Jan. 9.

Headlining those items was discussion about a vacant lot previously occupied by Temple Baptist Church on West Main Street between Messer and Mountain streets. Councilwoman Rhonda Thomas-Haight explained that Blue Ridge Hotel, LLC, the group that purchased part of the lot, has offered to let the city lease the lot, which has space for about 200 vehicles, from Jan. 15 through at least July 15, 2018.

Councilwoman and Mayor Pro Tempore Rhonda Thomas-Haight takes the oath of office Tuesday night while her husband holds the Bible.

Thomas-Haight stated Blue Ridge Hotel outlined certain lease terms for the city to follow, which included the city providing liability insurance through the term, maintaining the lot, repairing cable fencing and taking responsibility for parking, logistics and fee collections of the lot. According to Thomas-Haight, the group requests for a 50/50 revenue split with the city; however, it was undecided as to how, or if, the city would collect parking fees for the lot.

Thomas-Haight suggested establishing a donation box system similar to that seen at a parking lot on East Main Street. “People, on their own volition, will put their money in there,” Thomas-Haight explained. “They’re going to it because it’s the right thing to do and they’re asked to do it.”

The council unanimously approved the contract with Blue Ridge Hotel, LLC contingent on City Attorney James Balli reviewing and approving the terms of the agreement.

A Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) water system improvement project was awarded to The Renee Group, Inc., of Doraville, Georgia. The Renee Group submitted the lowest bid for the project, which will upgrade water systems in the Orchard Boulevard neighborhood, at $505,719.80 and was recommended by the city’s water system engineering firm, Carter & Sloope. Mayor Whitener explained because this item was tabled from the December meeting, crews from The Renee Group were ready to begin the project within a few days.

The council approved $5,450 of its $8,450 annual contribution to Mountain Regional Library System (MRLS), which includes the Fannin County Public Library. Mayor Whitener explained that the partial amount approved was due to the unbalanced schedule of fiscal years between the city and MRLS, and that the remaining amount is approved by the city at a later date.

The possibility of reopening a small portion of Chastain Street was discussed after Whitener stated development activity has occurred recently in that area. Whitener said she would contact local surveyor Lane Bishop to survey the area and come back to the council with further information regarding the reopening.

At the meet-and-greet prior to the meeting, Councilman Nathan Fitts, Fiance Director Alicia Stewart, Councilwoman Rhonda Thomas-Haight and City Clerk Kelsey Ledford talk about the upcoming oath ceremony.

A permanent backhoe was purchased by the city for $65,526. Currently, as City Clerk Kelsey Ledford explained, the city rents a backhoe for projects for $1,700 a month. Ledford told the council the city has applied for and is eligible to receive a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant of $25,000 with a loan for the remaining balance. However, Ledford also stated the city has not yet been officially approved for the grant and loan. Despite this, the council voted unanimously to purchase the backhoe from Yancey Brothers heavy equipment dealership.

Two invoices from Carter & Sloope were approved by the council. A general consulting invoice for various city projects from Sept. 17 to Nov. 26, 2017, in the amount of $15,361.25 was approved. Another invoice for $32,034.75 for monitoring of mercury and copper at, as well as other services related to, the city’s wastewater treatment facility was approved. Councilman Nathan Fitts questioned the specificity of the invoices and suggested a better breakdown of services rendered be presented to the city from Carter & Sloope in the future.

Also approved by the council were a number of quotes and invoices, which included:

  • A $14,918.84 quote and purchase order for computers, printers and mounts for vehicles for the Blue Ridge Police Department from Ellijay Telephone Company (ETC), which will be reimbursed by a Governor’s Office of Highway Safety Technology grant;
  • A $4,550.37 invoice from Dwight Oliver Electrical Contractor, Inc. for force main replacements at the city pump station 4 on state Route 515 in late November; and
  • A $43,976.69 invoice from Heavy Constructors, Inc. for emergency electrical work at the city’s water treatment plant in September, which Mayor Whitener informed the council the city could receive reimbursement from the parties responsible for the electrical issues at the plant.

[Featured image: Blue Ridge City Council Members Harold Herndon, left, Kenneth Gaddis and Nathan Fitts attend the first council meeting of the new year Tuesday, Jan. 9.]



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

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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.]

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


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