Swan Repair Stalled, Called Meeting Turns Turbulent

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During a tense called meeting Monday morning, Blue Ridge Mayor Donna Whitener attempted to reverse last week’s city council decision to move forward with repairs to the Swan Theatre screen. Filling the chairs in the lobby of city hall, residents, business owners, and Swan Supporters came out to hear the decision and give their input

Last week’s decision approved work to move forward on the repairs to the screen without first securing a current lease with operator Steve Setser. The repairs were to be paid for by an insurance check. Whitener wanted to establish a lease with Setser before moving forward with the repairs, saying that she was not necessarily opposed to signing the $265,000 insurance check to complete the repairs, but that she wanted to verify several aspects of the work before moving forward.

“As for the contract with Mr. Selby (the workman expected to do the work on the screen) and the insurance check,”

she said,

“I am not saying that I am not willing to sign the check; I am saying that pursuant to 3.21 of the city charter, I am charged with upholding the laws of the state and as they apply to the city.”

One part of the issue the mayor wanted to investigate was the damage to the screen. Currently, the proof of loss is wind. Whitener, though, does not believe that the damage was caused entirely by wind. As such, she said she is having the Insurance Commissioner investigate the cause of loss. Once she receives information back from the Insurance Commissioner, she said she will revisit the issue.

Although, the mayor did not reverse last week’s decision by veto at Monday’s meeting, she did, however, read an excerpt from the city charter stating that, as mayor, she is chief and presiding executive of the city. After the affirmation, Whitener issued an official statement on the Swan Screen, establishing her presence at the meeting.

“I am here, I am the presiding officer,”

she said,

“(and) I am physically present.”

Conversely, Parks Commissioner and Council Member Michael Eaton made an alternate motion, voting to

“declare the mayor absent in the signing and (to) allow Wayne (Huffman), as mayor pro tem, to sign the contract with Jerry Selby so we can fix the screen process and also so we (the city) can sign the check form the insurance company as well as the dispersement payments to Jerry Selby to finish the screen.”

Initially, three council members voted to approve the motion. Following the motion, however, Huffman seemed uncertain as to what he was voting for. Getting up from her chair and walking over to Huffman, Whitener asked the mayor pro tem if he knew what he was voting for. Huffman implied that he did not know. Whitener then gently explained to Huffman that the council made a motion to vote the mayor absent. Subsequently, Huffman changed his vote, leaving only Eaton and Rodney Kendall voting for the motion, all else against.

The vote and sharp discussion among council members kindled a fire of comments from the crowd, ranging from support for the Swan to support for a fair lease to those who saw both sides, but simply wanted the matter settled.

City Resident Abigail Madison urged council to repair the screen since the city already had the check, while local business owners commented on the lease. Herb Windham, whose family owns the Blue Ridge Marina, said that his family leases the marina buildings from the city and, after requesting, the city has not fixed the floor or roof to the marina. However, at the same time, he cautioned the city to try to preserve the businesses in the city that produce income, like the Swan.

Consequently, the council’s actions Monday morning did nothing to change or reverse last week’s decision to move forward with the screen repairs. But, here’s the rub: Whitener will wait for information from the insurance commissioner before she moves forward and signs the insurance check to repair the screen. This, of course, leaves the Swan screen repairs stalled—for now.

Watch Slideshow of Meeting

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