Blue Ridge, Ga. – The City of Blue Ridge parking continues to be a topic of discussion as accusations and controversy surround the management of the paid municipal lots.
Cesar Martinez, President of the Blue Ridge Business Association and Chairman of the Downtown Development Authority, read from an incident report filed to EPS (Executive Parking Systems) from one of its employees.
The incident, which took place on Saturday, May 29, 2021 during the Arts in the Park festival, involved EPS charging motorists to park at City Hall.
“I was pretty appalled,” Martinez said of the filed complaint, “The verbal attack on the parking attendants on May 29th was reprehensible and unacceptable.”
According to the complaint, a parking attendant with EPS was confronted by Councilmember Nathan Fitts about the company charging and accepting cash to park in the lot.
The parking attendant claims that Fitts drove into the lot and became irate when discussing the issue, telling the attendant that the collection of money for this particular lot was not authorized and that Fitts flaunted his position of power with statements like “I’m the top of the food chain”.
Fitts denies these claims and states that he had four witnesses with him who are willing to testify in court that this was not what took place.
Fitts said that he went to City Hall after receiving numerous complaints from residents and business owners.
“It would have been nice if you (Martinez) and or the Mayor were going to make these decisions, that you notify us council members or got our permission so we could let our downtown business owners know this,” Fitts spoke directly to Martinez, “It is not up to you to run this town.”
According to Fitts, once in the parking lot to verify that motorists were being charged, he called Zach Wojohn, President of EPS, and placed him on speaker phone.
Fitts explained to Wojohn that business owners had been told that City Hall would be free parking for employees and asked who had given permission to charge for the lot.
According to Fitts, Wojohn replied, “I have the Mayor on my side. I don’t have to answer anything to you” and hung up on him.
“The parking attendants were just there to do their jobs,” Martinez spoke to Council, “They had no knowledge of anything Mr. Fitts was ranting about.”
Martinez went on to say that he felt Mr. Fitts owes many apologies concerning the incident.
Fees for parking at City Hall have been collected during major events for several years now and Martinez pointed out these fees were collected “without objection”.
“Festivals have always been where we charge for parking at City Hall. It’s been done several times and nobody, including yourself (Fitts), ever raised a word,” Martinez said, adding about the new concern over parking, “There’s one big thing that’s changed and that’s the toxic vendetta filled politics plaguing our city.”
The issue of City parking came to the table once again during the meeting with Fitts and Councilmember Rhonda Haight giving their legal findings regarding the City’s contract with EPS.
Recently Council voted to not terminate the existing contract with EPS and not utilize the sealed bid process, with the tie breaking vote being cast by Mayor Donna Whitener.
“The more and more I dig into this, the more and more I find that I do not have it in me for the City of Blue Ridge to get taken advantage of in any shape, form or fashion,” Fitts said of the current contract with EPS.
Fitts and Haight, who have spent over $20,000 of their own money seeking legal opinion, recently asked several questions of former City Attorney David Syfan regarding the current contract and the legalities of EPS collecting and keeping money from non-special event parking.
When asked his legal opinion on whether the process of the City’s parking management should go through the sealed bid process, Syfan quoted the City Charter and stated in a written statement, “The clear answer is that under Georgia law, Section 630. That does not allow the City to bypass the sealed bid process or the auction process.”
Section 630 refers to general contracts entered into by the City and Fitts explained that every other service with the exception of parking management has gone through the sealed bid process.
Syfan went on to point out that the wording of the second contract with EPS, which has never been approved, makes it evident that the company according to current contract is only to be paid a percentage of monies during special events.
Wording in the second unapproved contract, states that EPS would collect funds for day to day operations. This wording is added and not in the current contract with the City.
City Council never gave permission to EPS to collect funds on day to day operations according to Haight and Fitts.
“Since EPS has no valid contractual right to those funds, EPS should turn over to the City all of those funds that were not event related and that were received due to unauthorized use of City property,” Syfan stated in an email.
Haight reached out to the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) who agreed to review all evidence relating to the parking contract and advise the City for a fee of $1,500.
Haight expressed her feelings of allowing GMA to investigate the matter and felt the City would benefit from their unbiased opinion.
A motion was made by Haight to move forward with a GMA investigation and seconded by Councilmember Mike Panter. Council unanimously voted to move forward with the investigation.
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