Council approves rezoning request for proposed workforce housing

City Council
Searles Foundation President speaks to council about workforce housing

FANNIN COUNTY, Ga. — The Blue Ridge City Council voted on May 17, 2022 to approve the Blue Ridge Planning Commission’s recommendation for a rezoning request. The property, located at the intersection of Trackside Lane and Boardtown Road, is owned by the Searles Foundation. President Philip Searles was in attendance and spoke to the council about the workforce housing planned for the property.

During a meeting on May 3, 2022, The Blue Ridge Planning Commission heard the rezoning request from the Searles Foundation President. He shared that the foundation has proposed to build 84 workforce housing units. The commission recommended that the property, approximately nine acres, be rezoned from C2 to high density R3.

The recommendation from the commission, along with a staff analysis, was shared at a Blue Ridge City Council meeting two weeks later. Blue Ridge City Administrator Eric Soroka said the rezoning “would reduce the potential land use intensity from commercial to residential” and place no additional burden on the school system, the water and sewer systems, roads, or other public infrastructure. He also noted the intended use of the property would provide affordable housing, which fits in the city’s comprehensive plan.

“We’ve seen such a large outcry and support from the citizens of Blue Ridge for additional workforce housing,” Searles told the council. He noted that the units would be annual leases, not short term rentals. He also said one bedroom rents would start at $695, while two bedroom rents would be $831 a month. All but nine of the units would be restricted to tenants that fall within a certain range of income. In the remaining 75 units, maximum income restrictions are in place. To be eligible, a single individual would need an income less than $29,940 and a two person household would need an income less than $34,200. Searles later noted that a market study revealed a total of two thousand in the Fannin County area who would qualify.

Searles told the council that the foundation plans to allow residents from the Blue Ridge Housing Authority an option to move into the new development with no rent increase. Moving the residents would allow the housing authority to renovate their own 48 units, and residents would have the option to move back as well. That offer, Searles noted, is part of the Searles Foundation’s effort to work with the community and make the new development “as Blue Ridge as possible.”

Searles also discussed the future possibility of “phase two,” where an additional 72 units could be added to the property as part of a senior housing development. Both the council and Searles added, however, the foundation’s “phase two” goal would come at the city’s discretion, as it would require a new zoning classification to be created.

Searles also addressed a question from Councilmember Christy Kay, who asked about the distinction between the foundation’s housing and Section 8 housing. Searles noted that the workforce housing coming to Blue Ridge would be under the Section 42 program, “a financing mechanism” where the foundation receives a federal tax credit directly. Marshall Aiken, who was present for the meeting, is also affiliated with the Searles Foundation. He recently spoke during a panel discussion in Gilmer County where he further explained the “tax credit communities.”

Commissioners proclaim Mental Health Awareness Month

Board of Commissioners, Community
Mental Health Awareness Month

FANNIN COUNTY, Ga. — The Fannin County Board of Commissioners proclaimed the month of May as Mental Health Awareness Month, with representatives from Fannin County Family Connection in attendance. The board also received an update on the city park agreement recently signed by the board and the Blue Ridge City Council.

City park

The Fannin County Recreation Complex at Blue Ridge City Park is already being prepared for improvement projects.

Recreation Director Eddie O’Neal first told the commissioners that an advisory board will hold their first meeting on May 12, 2022. The board will include Blue Ridge City Council members Angie Arp and Christy Kay, Director O’Neal, Fannin County Parks and Recreation Board member Cline Bowers, Leadership Fannin Steering Committee Coordinator Christie Gribble, and Commissioner Johnny Scearce. The newly created board will help oversee the upcoming improvements to the park, now named the Fannin County Recreation Complex at the Blue Ridge City Park. “We’re trying to give everybody in the county and the city an opportunity to have a really nice park,” Commissioner Scearce said.

O’Neal noted that work on the park has already begun. He said the playground equipment will be replaced with ADA compliant equipment by the end of 2022 and the new pool and splash pad facility should be open by the summer of 2024. According to O’Neal, the county will also continue to honor existing contracts between the school system and the city of Blue Ridge, that allows school sports teams to play at the park.

Mental Health Awareness Month

Mental Health Awareness MonthRepresentatives from Fannin County Family Connection were in attendance at the meeting to see the board proclaim May 2022 as Mental Health Awareness Month. Anna Speessen, Chair of the Mental Health Strategy Team, read the proclamation before it was signed by the commissioners. In part, the proclamation read: “Whereas prevention is an effective way to reduce the burden of mental health conditions, and there is strong research that animal companionship, humor, spirituality, religion, recreation, social connections, and work life balance can help all Americans protect their health and well-being.”

Speessen continued, “Whereas every citizen and community can make a difference in helping end the silence and stigma that for too long has surrounded mental illness and discouraged people from getting help.” Chairman Jamie Hensley thanked the group while signing the proclamation for the second time, saying, “We want to thank y’all for everything that y’all do for us and for this community.”

Council and commissioners enter city park agreement

Board of Commissioners, City Council
City park

FANNIN COUNTY, Ga. — In a joint meeting, The Blue Ridge City Council and Fannin County Board of Commissioners approved an intergovernmental agreement that aims to improve the Blue Ridge City Park. Among several notable provisions, the agreement includes a new swimming pool facility that will open in April of 2024.

The city council and commissioners met at Blue Ridge City Hall on May 2, 2022 to approve the execution of the “historic” agreement. The agreement allows the board of commissioners to lease the city park, at 350 Gray Street, from the City of Blue Ridge. During the term of the lease, which is set to end in April of 2042, the board will take on several responsibilities. Most notably, the board of commissioners has agreed to “construct and replace the existing pool, pool equipment, and pool house with a new swimming pool facility and splash pad that will be opened in April 2024.” The commissioners will also replace the existing playground equipment with new handicap accessible equipment by the end of the year. The board also has “exclusive operational authority of the park,” and will take on the financial responsibility of the improvements.

City park

The commissioners and council held a joint meeting at city hall.

After both governmental bodies had voted to approve their respective agreements, Blue Ridge Mayor Rhonda Haight said: “This is an historic agreement that could only happen when elected officials on city council and the board of commissioners truly look at the needs for Blue Ridge and Fannin County. I truly commend all the elected officials involved in this transaction. Furthermore, I’d like to give a special thank you to the recreation board and both Eddie O’Neal … and Eric Soroka … who led the negotiation process. Without you this wouldn’t be possible either.” Chairman of the Fannin County Board of Commissioners Jamie Hensley added, “It’s a special day for all of us, Fannin County and the City of Blue Ridge as well. We’re thankful to be able to give back to our community, once again.”

The agreement itself says it aims to expand access to public facilities and enhance recreational opportunities for both all visitors and residents. The board of commissioners will take on responsibility for all amenities at the park, including several ball parks. “It takes a certain amount of trust from both sides, and for whatever reason we haven’t had it and now we do. And we want to keep it, because that’s what it takes to get things done for our people, all of our people,” Commissioner Glenn Patterson said. Councilmember Jack Taylor also emphasized his desire to continue working with the county.

Councilmember Christy Kay held back tears while sharing her own connection to the city park and pool. “Parks is one of the reasons why I did run for city council, and I can’t express how excited I am for this,” she said, “I feel like it has helped shape me throughout. I mean I got a scholarship in college, I lifeguarded in college, and I want to be able to give that back to our community.”

Councilmember Angie Arp, who also expressed her connection to the city pool, said, “I’m just thankful that the city and county has elected leaders that are willing to do what’s best for the community, city and county citizens. I’m also thankful that y’all agreed to allow us to have some input in it, through a committee.” Arp was referring to the Pool/Splash Pad Design Committee, that will be made up of two council members and the city administrator. Any subsequent improvements will also be reviewed by a similar committee, ensuring the city has input.

City Council will move forward with parking ordinance

City Council, Downtown Blue Ridge
BRCC parking workshop

FANNIN, Ga. — The Blue Ridge City Council held a workshop meeting on March 1 to discuss parking in the city’s downtown area. Business owners, citizens, and members of the county government attended the meeting to provide their input and hear the council discuss the potential parking ordinance.

Mayor Rhonda Haight began the meeting by explaining the reasoning behind the council’s push to create a parking ordinance and the goal of a potential ordinance. “My proposal is not that we have paid parking on East Main, but we have limited parking. And that way we’re having a higher turnover rate where people can come in, they can shop, and then they can go,” Mayor Haight said. She made note of the council’s desire to designate areas for downtown employees, encourage train patrons to park elsewhere, and make the downtown area more accessible to everyone. Mayor Haight explained the council would propose a three hour limit on parking spaces along East Main Street, but clarified that “these hours would only be between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.” The City of Blue Ridge, as noted by Haight, already has a parking ordinance in place that sets a two hour limit on certain parking spaces, but that ordinance is going unenforced.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, several business owners spoke to share their concerns about the potential change. A common concern among those in attendance was the establishment of time constraints on downtown shoppers. Those speaking felt that rushing downtown visitors would have a negative impact not only on their businesses, but on the city as a whole. Changing Blue Ridge’s small town charm and southern hospitality and making visitors feel unwanted was a concern raised several times during the evening.

Some citizens who spoke at the meeting were concerned that further inaction would continue to isolate residents from the downtown area. In response, Mayor Haight mentioned the council would be considering options to address the issue, including stickers for resident’s cars.

Chairman Jamie Hensley and Police Chief Johnny Scearce, both members of the Fannin County Board of Commissioners, also spoke to the council during the meeting. Hensley spoke to the council about property that Fannin County had purchased for employee parking. Offering potential help, he said, “I feel that at some point we may be able to do something, at least on the weekend, with that parking area. So, maybe that will help alleviate some of the strain from downtown.” Police Chief Scearce also spoke, highlighting the importance of public safety in the context of parking accessibility.

While the council agreed action needed to be taken, there was some disagreement concerning the extent of the potential new ordinance. Council member Christy Kay, namely, was against an immediate three hour limit on all East Main Street. Instead, she suggested, the council could test the plan on small sections of downtown. Mayor Haight responded by encouraging action after several years of studies and planning, “We can keep talking about this forever or we can implement.” At the end of the meeting, the council voted to move forward with the process of drafting an ordinance that limits East Main Street parking to three hours.

New city council meets, adopts new rules of procedure

City Council
New city council adopts new rules of procedure

FANNIN, Ga. — The new Blue Ridge City Council held their first meeting on Jan. 18. After appointing several city employees and board members, the council took action on water leakage issues and gutter replacements at the Historic Baugh House. The council also adopted a new set of procedure rules along with a city mission statement. 

Mayor Rhonda Haight recognized councilmembers Angie Arp and Bill Whaley for their work in creating the new mission statement and procedure rules. Whaley read the mission statement during the meeting, “Our mission is to enrich the quality of life in Blue Ridge for all our citizens. We pledge to work in partnership with our residents, all stakeholders and the Fannin County government to protect, preserve and secure the quaintness of our small-town community and to enhance the natural beauty of our environment.” He also touched on the core values that the council will operate within, including accountability, collaboration, stewardship, and professionalism. “If you read the whole thing, we’re holding ourselves to a standard of behavior amongst ourselves, and a standard of openness to the community,” Whaley said about the mission statement and procedure rules. The full document can be found in the agenda packet for the Jan. 18 meeting. 

After being tabled at the last council meeting, the council approved a purchase of gutter replacements for the Historic Baugh House on 425 West First Street. Mayor Haight confirmed that the building is on the National Register of Historic Places, meaning the city would need to purchase appropriate gutter replacements at a cost of $17,000. “We want to preserve it, and it costs more to put up aesthetically appropriate gutters,” Whaley said. The council unanimously approved the purchase. 

An approval for the purchase of third party leak detection services was also on the agenda. “I would actually even recommend that you guys think about doubling what we’ve got here because they’re going to be doing leak detection at Mountaintops, which is our highest leak area,” Mayor Haight said when presenting the agenda item. “It would double the price, but it is in the budget to do that,” Haight continued. The council discussed the need, citing the concentration of water loss in the Mountaintops area, and eventually agreed to increase the number of services from four to eight. 

Newly elected City Council members take oath of office

City Council

FANNIN, Ga. — The newly elected members of the Blue Ridge City Council were sworn in during a meeting on Jan. 18. Each member and the Mayor took the oath of office before beginning the meeting. The new council also appointed several city employees and board members during the meeting. 

Mayor Haight is sworn in.

Rhonda Haight took her oath of office and was sworn in as Mayor of the City of Blue Ridge. 

Mayor Pro Tempore Angie Arp is sworn in.

Angie Arp took her oath of office and was later appointed mayor pro tempore. 

Council members Jack Taylor, Bill Bivins, Christy Kay, and Bill Whaley also took their oath of office during the meeting. 

New members are sworn in.

Bill Whaley

New members take oath of office

Jack Taylor

New members take oath of office

Christy Kay

New members take oath of office

Bill Bivins


The new city council approved the appointments of several city employees: 

  • City Attorney Charles S. Conerly 
  • City Clerk Amy Mintz 
  • Police Chief Johnny Scearce 
  • City Treasurer Michael Richardson 
  • Municipal Court Judge Robert Sneed
  • Levy Officer Chris Mortimer 
  • Prosecuting Attorney Joseph Hudson

The council appointed Andy Bowen to the Blue Ridge Downtown Development Authority, and Mayor Haight also appointed Laura Ray to the DDA. Additionally, the council appointed Angie Arp to the Downtown Development Authority. At Arp’s request, Councilmember Kay will replace her after one year. To fill Arp’s seat on the Planning and Zoning Commision, the council appointed Brian Higgins. 


Whitener breaks tie, city council approves condominium complex

City Council, Downtown Blue Ridge
City Council approves condominium complex

FANNIN, Ga. — After delaying their vote for a month, the Blue Ridge City Council approved a controversial condominium proposal. In a two to two vote, Mayor Whitener voted in favor of allowing the project to continue. 

Last month, the council heard a proposal for a condominium complex that would exceed the Central Business District height limit of 35 feet. With concerns of potential lawsuits for denying the project, the council agreed to table the vote until they could seek legal opinion on the issue. 

Council member Rhonda Haight spoke first on the issue, reading a legal opinion she had received from Smith Conerly, “He said he’s been asked to render a legal opinion as to whether 35 height limit in CBD zoning districts, adopted by the mayor and city council on July the 13th, 2021, applies to the proposed development of a certain property located at 200 West First Street, Blue Ridge, Georgia, the subject property. For the reasons set forth herein, it is my legal opinion that the subject property in the proposed development thereof is subject to the 35 foot … height limit.” 

Panter responded, “I’ve got an opinion also.” Panter’s legal opinion came from City Attorney James Balli. He read, “It is in my opinion the rights to construct the building at the height shown on the approved elevation has likely vested. When a permit is not yet issued, the Supreme Court of Georgia has stated, adopt the rule recognizing Illinois. When a landlord makes a substantial change in position, by expenditures and reliance upon the probability of the issuance of a building permit based upon an existing zoning ordinance and the assurance of zoning officials, he acquires vested rights and is entitled to have the permit issued, despite a change in zoning ordinance which would otherwise preclude the issuance of the permit.” 

These two legal opinions were the basis of the council’s decision. Haight wasted no time moving the council to vote, “I make the motion that the Robbman Scott Kiker … property located at 200 West First Street be denied a building permit for a 60 foot building.” Council member Nathan Fitts seconded the motion. Eventually, members Mike Panter and Robbie Cornelius voted against Haight’s motion and in favor of the condominium proposal. With member Harold Herndon absent, Mayor Whitener was left to break the council’s tied vote. “I’m going to have to say we should pass it,” Whitener said, allowing the developers to continue the development as planned. 

Sign against condominiums

The group posted signs around the city, and held them during the meeting to protest the approval of the condos.

During the meeting, many local residents came to voice their opposition to the proposed development. The group spoke out against what they saw as continuing overdevelopment, regardless of what was in the city’s ordinances. They also criticized Mayor Whitener, and many walked out after she cast the deciding vote. 

Other Business 

At the meeting, the council also approved a cost of living raise of four percent for all city employees.




City Council approves employee bonuses of up to $3,000

City Council, Downtown Blue Ridge
City Council approves bonuses from ARPA funds

FANNIN, Ga. — The Blue Ridge City Council experienced heated debate over a proposed condominium during their Nov. 16 meeting. However, the council also took action on several other issues, including up to three thousand dollar bonuses for city employees.

The American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, took effect in March of 2021. Since then, the city council had used that money for improvements to the city. Specifically, $300,000 for a Mineral Springs sewer line and $100,000 for work at Mountain Tops. Donna Whitener proposed that the City of Blue Ridge follows the lead of surrounding municipalities, like Gilmer and Fannin County, and use the remaining $145,582 in ARPA funds to provide bonuses to city employees.

The council approved pre-tax bonuses of $3,000 for all full time employees and $500 for all part time employees, a total amount of $133,486. The bonuses from ARPA funds will replace city employees’ Christmas bonus which, as the council pointed out, are based on seniority with a maximum of five hundred dollars.

Water & Wastewater Utilities Director Rebecca Harkins spoke to the council about current efforts to improve the city’s sewer system, saying, “As you all know, we’re currently rehabbing our sewer lift stations … We’re gonna pump everything … right up Industrial Park Rd. … which has really taken a load off the sewer distribution system.” She then explained that a developer was requesting to tie in to the Industrial Park Rd. lift station, which was near capacity. Harkins says she spoke to Plant Supervisor James Weaver about installing a grinder at the pump, “That’s gonna reduce the load on that pump and make it more efficient so that it could handle that extra capacity. The grinder is something that the city would have purchased in that upgrade [anyways].” The developer, Harkins noted, has offered to pay in full for the grinder and its installation. At an estimated total cost of $97,000, including a ten percent contingency, the developer is willing to pay 50 percent upfront, 25 percent when construction begins, and a final 25 percent at completion. “So the city gets their grinder basically for free,” Harkins emphasized, and the council approved.

Also brought up at the meeting, was an upcoming Christmas tradition. Light Up Blue Ridge takes place Nov. 27, 2021, as noted by DDA Chairman Cesar Martinez, “There’s a lot of stuff going on, from elementary school Christmas trees on the boardwalk, to food vendors and people singing and ‘falala-ing’ all around the city. So, hope you all get out there for light up.” The Light Up Blue Ridge Parade begins at 5:30 p.m. At E. Main St and is immediately followed by the lighting of the Great Tree at around 7:00 p.m.

City Council considers approval of 55 foot condominium complex

City Council

FANNIN, Ga. — During the Nov. 16, 2021 Blue Ridge City Council meeting, representatives of WAMM Development, LLC sought approval of their planned condominium complex to be located at 200 West First Street. 

WAMM Development representative seeking condominium approval

WAMM Development attorney speaks to Blue Ridge City Council.

The biggest issue of the night was whether or not WAMM Development will be allowed to continue with their project. The proposed condo would have a height of 55 feet, 20 feet over the allowed maximum for new buildings in the Central Business District (CBD). The council brought up the height restriction, but representatives for WAMM Development say because the rezoning was approved before the height moratorium, they closed on their property after the moratorium had expired, the city attorney suggested they would be grandfathered in, and they spent significant money on the project, that a claim of detrimental reliance is applicable. On the other hand, the Blue Ridge City Council says the condominium project still falls under the height restriction because the developers should have been aware of the moratorium, the amended ordinance, and known that the city attorney does not have final say for the council. 

Claims of miscommunication, convolution of the timeline, and haphazard debates quickly filled the meeting. After over an hour of heated conversation, the council voted to table the approval of plans until their December meeting. The council cited their desire to look over the timeline of events and seek further legal counsel. 

Condominium Plans

The condominiums would be behind Burger King and United Community Bank.

Condominium plans

The plans for the condominiums were provided to the council.

condominium plans









Many citizens of Blue Ridge have voiced their support for restrictions on development. For many, especially those in attendance at the meeting, the proposed condominium complex is another example of overdevelopment in the city. Discussion on the issue is bound to make its way through the community, and the Nov. 16 meeting provided little clarity. Using public records and official meeting minutes, FYN has compiled a timeline of important dates surrounding the issue, which will be an important component of the council’s decision on the condominium approval. Ultimately, the decision will be based on legality. Council members Mike Panter and Robbie Cornelius both raised concerns over potential lawsuits if the city denies the approval. The Blue Ridge City Council and WAMM Development representatives will meet again on Dec. 21, 2021 at 5 p.m.


March 3, 2020: Robbman Scott Kiker attends a Blue Ridge Planning Commission meeting where he requests a rezoning for property located at 200 West First St. The planning commission approves the request, with conditions. John Soave makes the motion to apply these conditions: The applicant would have to pay for all water, sewer, road and sidewalk upgrades. The applicant would also have to bring upgrade and permit applications before the City Council for approval. The motion carries, and Chairman Rick Skelton announces a second hearing to take place at the March 10, 2020 City Council meeting. 

March 10, 2020: Robbman Scott Kiker attends a city council meeting seeking approval of his rezoning. The council approves the rezoning, as recommended by the planning commission, with a 3-0 vote.

Oct. 20, 2020: The Blue Ridge City Council votes 5-0 to enact a moratorium on CBD buildings over 45 feet tall. The moratorium is set for 120 days, expiring on Feb. 17, 2021.

Feb. 2, 2021: The Blue Ridge Planning Commission is set to discuss zoning changes. Prior to the meeting, the planned change to the ordinance is to reduce maximum CBD building heights from 60 feet to 45 feet. Mark Engledow makes a motion to amend changes, setting a new permanent CBD maximum height of 35 feet. The commission unanimously approves. 

Feb. 9, 2021: Project Manager Jeff Stewart speaks at a city council meeting. He recommends that the council approve the changes to Ordinance BR2021-06. The council votes 5-0 to have the city attorney amend the ordinance, and plan for a first and second reading. 

March 3, 2021: WAMM Development, LLC acquires the 200 West First St. property. 

March 9, 2021: The first reading of the proposed amendments to Ordinance BR2021-06 takes place. Deciding they need more community input, council sets two town halls for March 30, 2021 and April 13, 2021. 

March 30, 2021: Town hall meeting takes place. 

April 13, 2021: Town hall meeting takes place. A city council meeting follows, where the second reading of the amended Ordinance BR2021-06 is scheduled to take place. The council tables the reading to continue working out details. 

June 15, 2021: During a special called meeting, the city council hosts the second reading of amended Ordinance BR2021-06. 

June 18, 2021: A letter from the City Clerk notes that Mayor Whitener was presented with amended Ordinance BR2021-06. On June 22, 2021, Mayor Whitener returns the ordinance with intent to veto. 

July 6, 2021: A letter from Mayor Whitener recommends the council allow the veto. In this letter she also explains her reason for the veto. 

July 13, 2021: The Blue Ridge City Council unanimously overrides Mayor Whitener’s veto.

Other Business

The city council tackled several issues at their meeting, including $3,000 bonuses for full time city employees.



Blue Ridge City Council Election: The Results

Election, Featured News, Featured Stories
Election Results

FANNIN, Ga. — After almost a month of voting, the polls for the Blue Ridge City Council election closed today, Nov. 2, 2021 at 7 p.m. This election has been called one of the most important in Blue Ridge history and comes at a time of heightened worry about the future of the city. 

For months, both citizens and candidates have made their voices heard on what they consider serious issues for the city. Now, the citizens of Blue Ridge have chosen who will serve on city council to tackle those issues. 

Although the results are not yet certified, the poll workers announced their tallies to the public. The results of the election were announced at 10:41 p.m. on Nov. 2, 2021. 


Rhonda Haight has won the title of Mayor of Blue Ridge. She will replace Donna Whitener, an incumbent of 12 years. Haight’s term is four years. 

Vote count:

Rhonda Haight – 234 votes

Donna Whitener – 196 votes

Post 1:

Jack Taylor has won the Post 1 seat. He will replace incumbent Harold Herndon. His term is two years. 

Vote count:

Jack Taylor – 250 votes

Harold Herndon – 168 votes

Post 2:

Angie Arp has won the Post 2 seat. She will replace Rhonda Haight. Mike Panter, the Post 3 incumbent, was her challenger. Her term is four years. 

Vote count

Angie Arp: 223 votes 

Mike Panter: 211 votes 

Post 3: 

Christy Kay has won the Post 3 seat. She will replace Mike Panter. Her challenger was Brian Higgins. Her term is two years. 

Vote count

Christy Kay: 233 votes 

Brian Higgins: 194 votes 

Post 4: 

Bill Whaley has won the Post 4 seat. He will replace Robbie Cornelius. Whaley had two challengers, Richard Arnold and Jacqueline Brown. His term is four years. 

Vote count

Bill Whaley: 207 votes 

Jacqueline Brown: 157 votes 

Richard Arnold: 63 votes 

Post 5: 

Bill Bivins has won the Post 5 seat. He will replace incumbent Nathan Fitts. His term is 2 years. 

Vote count

Bill Bivins: 261 votes

Nathan: 172 votes


City Council Election: Interview with Richard Arnold

City Council, Election
Richard Arnold

FANNIN, Ga. — Richard Arnold is a candidate for the Post 4 seat on Blue Ridge City Council. He spoke with FYN to discuss his candidacy, his concerns, and his goals for the city. Arnold is running against Jacqueline Brown and William Whaley. 

On a city manager form of government : 

Arnold says he’s strongly in favor of the city manager format: “The city is a multi-million dollar corporation like many cities are … the mayor has been mayor for 12 years. She lacks the skill set and experience of a city administrator to carry out her duty, and that’s why I think we’ve got 400 something thousand dollars behind in uncollected taxes. I think that’s why … infrastructure got ignored, because we’re being ran by a part time CEO, at $700 a month … a council part time at $500 dollars a month … and so, we have part time people … overseeing departments.” 

Arnold says, “This is exactly what happens when you don’t have term limits, and somebody gets up there and over time, they build up their connections throughout the state like with Speaker Ralston and Steve Gooch, and the developers … that’s why I’m in favor of it. And, not only am I in favor for that, I’m in favor of it because on 28 Dec. 2020, they passed unanimously a resolution asking the state legislature to approve us to change the city charter. And Ralston said no, cause he didn’t think we’d done our homework, but I know why he said no: because Donna Whitener told him to say no.”

Arnold continues: “I hope to be speaking at the meeting this coming Tuesday [Oct. 18, 2021] … so I’m going to ask them point blank on Tuesday night, what do they plan to do with the resolution? That’s a legally approved resolution, that should be resubmitted to the state legislature before the end of the year, so it can be considered in the 2022 legislative session, and I’m going to hope to get an answer from each and every one of them, the council members and the mayor.”  

If elected, Arnold says he would hold more town hall meetings on the subject: “In fact, Rhonda [Haight] and Nathan [Fitts] both told me in the summer they were gonna hold town hall meetings on it this fall, and they didn’t do it, because they didn’t want to bring up a controversial issue during an election.” 

On increasing public involvement and communication with the city council: 

“I would increase the number of public speaking spots on the agenda.” Arnold says that the mayor has filled the spots with DDA reports to stop citizen input: “She don’t like people speaking on things that’s not on the agenda, which is entirely ridiculous.  Just recently, in the last three or four meetings, she made sure to introduce meeting rules and how the public can decorum themselves: no outbursts, no questions, no nothing. Well, that’s B.S., it is B.S., they work for us.” 

“Then, I would have more town hall meetings. If something came up that I thought was controversial, and had a fair amount of support on both sides of the issue, I would bring it up for town council meetings,” Arnold says. However, he thinks the public isn’t getting enough town halls because of the council’s fighting: “They have no civility about themselves. They all hate each other’s guts.” 

Arnold also mentions improving the city website, to allow a more user friendly experience. Among his suggestions, Arnold says he would like to see an efficient way for citizens to report downed signs, potholes, and the like. 

On the city pool and proposed aquatic center:

Arnold says he supports the aquatic center, but wants the county to do it. “As far as city pool goes,” he says, “Maybe we can fix it, maybe we don’t. I don’t have enough background to answer that part of it, but there’s something that can be done with that pool. If people would put their creative minds together, problem is they’ve just been fighting each other so long, they don’t even know what a creative thought is. I mean… it may make sense to build a splash pad down at the pool, I mean that’s all the city residents … would like to see.”  

On parking and traffic:

“As far as parking goes I’ve proposed during a town hall that I would make all parking in Blue Ridge [excluding privately owned lots] … on an honor system. Where, just like the First Baptist Church does … they have a donation box. So, you put signs up and down the streets, you put signs in the parking lot … you put signs in front of the courthouse, you put signs at city hall, you put signs everywhere. Basically: ‘Blue Ridge is an honor system parking city. Please help us improve our city. Donate … whatever you feel is appropriate.” Arnold says he’d like to include QR codes where citizens or tourists can scan the sign, which would bring up suggested donation amounts. He says this system could increase income for the city, which could help pay for a new city manager.

Arnold also says he’d like to look at improving intersections. As one possibility, Arnold says he would suggest roundabouts in the more congested areas of town. 

On Donna Whitener:

The lady’s got a full time business to run. She don’t even live downtown. She’s got a big old house down on the lake. She’s a liar. And she’s connected at the hip with David Ralston … she’s the reason that hotel is there.” 

To voters: 

“I’m not politically connected to anybody. I’m a sharp businessman. I’ve been running my own business for almost 30 years, been trained by some of the best companies in America, including Delta Airlines and Kroger Company, been mentored by some awesome business people. I educate myself on business, and I understand business, and I understand that the city needs to be run like a business, not like somebody’s little goldmine.” 


FYN made an effort to contact every candidate, but we were ultimately unable to speak with Post 1 candidates Herald Herndon and Jack Taylor; Post 3 candidate Brian Christy Kay; Post 4 candidates Jacqueline Brown and William Whaley; and Post 5 candidates Bill Bivins and Nathan Fitts. Early voting is already underway and Election Day is Nov. 2, 2021. 

City Council Election: Interview with Mike Panter

City Council, Election
Mike Panter

FANNIN, Ga. — Mike Panter is a candidate for the Post 2 seat on the Blue Ridge City Council. He spoke with FYN to discuss his candidacy, previous achievements, and future goals. Mike Panter is incumbent and running against Angie Arp, who has previous experience on the city council. 

On collecting delinquent taxes and business license fees: 

Panter says that his push to collect unpaid taxes and fees began right after the COVID-19 pandemic began to affect the city: “We had a loss of revenue for that month [April 2020]. I was brought into a finance meeting, and there was a lot of discussion about, you know, what we were going to do.” Panter says it was then that he began to consider how to generate more income, “I was informed … by the accountant that the delinquent taxes were over $300,000, and my comment was ‘why have they not been collected?’” 

Panter explains that he was told the council had never wanted to collect the taxes “because it was a black eye for everybody.” He commented, “If my 80 year old mother can pay her taxes, everybody can pay their taxes.” Panter notes that the city ended up collecting over $200,000 in delinquent taxes. “Also during the process I found out we had over 90 businesses … that had delinquent business license,” which Panter says have now all been collected through 2020. Additionally, he mentions his work to increase business license fees from $50 to $250, a figure that had gone unchanged since 2004. 

Panter says: “Going forward, if elected … we will continue to collect our taxes, we’ll continue to collect business license [fees], and if we don’t, we’ll take the appropriate action, because, you know, the future … of the city of Blue Ridge depends on our collection of revenue.”  

On city water:

“I also did a search of our water. I found out that we had around 200 homes that were on residential water rates, but they … were on rental programs,” Panter says, “I deemed them as commercial, cause if you’re renting your home as a business, it’s commercial, it’s not residential.” He says he changed the water rate for those homes, increasing revenue for the city. Panter also brings up subdivisions that are outside the city limits, but are provided with city water: “A lot of these homes … we don’t get taxes from these people.”  

In response to claims about poor water quality, Panter says, “Quite frankly, we’re one of the highest rated water as far as purification, in the state.”  

On city finances:

Panter says that during his term he took “A look at the finances of the city, [and] saw that our bonds … had a 39 year note of over 13.9 million dollars.” He says he was able to renegotiate the bonds, to save the city over 2.5 million dollars, “We moved from a … 37 year bond at 4.1% to a 32 year bond at 2.3% which saved the city … this year alone, a hundred thousand”. Panter also brings up additional benefits of his work with the city finances: “Not only did we save 2.5 million dollars in debt, we got a double A rating which gives us better … financial ability to go out and borrow money and do things that we need to do to work toward the infrastructure.”

On affordable housing:

Panter first clarified his vote on affordable housing: “As you probably know, I voted no on the affordable housing proposal that we had about 3 or 4 months ago. The reason I voted no, was … not because I was against affordable housing. I’m for affordable housing.” 

He says that there’s different levels of affordable housing, with important distinctions. Panter leans in favor of workforce housing, which is usually available for middle class workers. “One of my things is, if we’re gonna do affordable housing … I want us to … have some type of control over who gets this housing. What I mean by that, I feel like that our citizens ought to have priority.” He says that other forms of housing, like Section 8, don’t allow the city to restrict access to people from other cities: “So, with workforce housing, if it’s structured correctly, we could determine where, we could determine the price range, we could put stipulations … for someone to be eligible.” Panter suggests possible requirements such as a year of prior residence, and a cap of 36 months in the housing. The lack of control is what led Panter to vote no. He says, “The way I understand it, if you use federal money for affordable housing, then we, the local city … do not have … our local residents having first option.” 

Panter also mentions that workforce housing is done throughout the country for workers like police, firefighters, and factory workers: “It’s a way that we could make sure that we have a workforce in our city.” He brings up the importance of location for those workers, another reason he voted no, saying, “Workforce housing is built in the geographical area where the people that live there can walk to work, can walk to a drug store, can walk to a grocery store. So all of the things that they need on a day to day basis is available to them.” The proposed location, as he explains, was near two schools and an existing residential area with no sidewalks, streetlights, or turn lanes. 

To voters:

“I spent 38 years in the city of Blue Ridge and Fannin County, working with the youth of this community. I’ve served just about on every board, and the people that know me know that I’m all about the community, taking care of our current community.  Making sure that as we grow, we’re growing financially stable. If I’m re-elected I’ll make sure that the city of Blue Ridge stays financially fit, to be able to expand our fire department, our recreation services, and one of my main goals is to build an aquatic and wellness center for the citizens of Blue ridge and Fannin County.” 


FYN made an effort to contact every candidate, but we were ultimately unable to speak with Post 1 candidates Herald Herndon and Jack Taylor; Post 3 candidate Christy Kay; Post 4 candidates Jacqueline Brown and William Whaley; and Post 5 candidates Bill Bivins and Nathan Fitts. Early voting is already underway and Election Day is Nov. 2, 2021. 


City Council Election: Interview with Angie Arp

City Council, Election
Angie Arp Headshot

FANNIN, Ga. — Angie Arp is running for the Post 2 seat on the Blue Ridge City Council. Arp spoke with FYN to discuss her past experiences and future goals. She has previously served on the council and is running against an incumbent, Mike Panter

On her break from city council:

Arp says, “I think people at that time was probably frustrated and aggravated, as they are now about the division, the fussing, the fighting.” After losing the last city council election, Arp suggests that “people see that I’ve been out of the picture, and I really wasn’t the problem.” 

She says she chose to run again because she still sees many of the same issues, but also new worrying ones: “I’m running again, because I see what is happening now. It’s disturbing, cause it’s got worse … over the past four years I’ve attended the meetings … I still know what’s going on, I still see what’s going on, and it’s still very disturbing to me.  Arp explains she could not just sit back in good conscience and wish for someone to step up to the plate, “I … could not have someone walk into his seat without even having to knock on a door … I’m gonna do my part this time.” 

On overdevelopment: 

“Bottom line is, you can’t stop growth altogether. You can’t stop people from selling their property, you can’t stop people from building on their property, but you can create ordinances that controls it,” Arp says. 

She talks about the proposal for the hotel that took place when she was in office. At the time, the hotel was eventually approved for four stories, regardless of the Planning and Zoning Department’s recommendation, Arp explains, “Well, no one stepped up to make that motion to change to three story … and I knew that if I had said it, made the motion, that it wouldn’t get passed … So if I had to do one thing over, in that whole four years, it would have been that I would have made that motion, regardless if anyone supported it or not.”

Going forward, Arp shares her zoning goals, “First thing in, go through those ordinances. Even if we had to hire … somebody to help us go through it, but they need to be updated.” She notes that most of the ordinances have not been altered in decades: “Actually, every ordinance in the city needs to be gone through and updated, but especially the zoning, just to make sure we don’t get overdeveloped. They’ve already reduced the height, that’s a step. But there’s other things that needs to be done.” Arp specifically points out, “In the zoning for the R3, you can build up to 45 feet. That’s crazy! So, they reduced it in the central business district … but yet now in R3 you can go up to 45 feet in a residential area?” This is just one example of several inconsistencies, Arp says. 

“Just taking the time … they should want to get things updated, I mean 40 years is a long time to not put any emphasis on that. Quite honestly, when I went in office that’s what I wanted to do, and I tried to focus on it. But, combatting all the other darts at me, and just trying to get the streets paved, trying to get the playground done trying to fight to make sure things are done legal, there just wasn’t enough time. It just didn’t get done. That’ll be a top priority for me though [going forward].” 

On a city manager: 

“Well I agree there needs to be a city manager,” Arp says. She explains how, in the past, the city council has approved a city administrator. However, Arp says, “In this case, because the mayor has fought for ten years against anybody being in an administrative position, other than her, then there’s no recourse other than to change the form of government.” 

Arps mentions she is worried about the way the city is currently headed: “The problem is here, the mayor can’t do what a city manager could do, because she don’t work 40 hours. So really the city is growing, and the way … things are not getting done, if .. the city does not get a city manager, … or someone who can supervise and make sure things are done, and report back to the council, or report back to the mayor or whatever, it’s just gonna continue to get worse. I’m sorry, but the city cannot continue forever … on the path it’s been going for the past 10 years, it just cannot.” 

Despite that, Arp says she is not in favor of a city manager with total control: “So, … I would favor that, but I would be careful, and in no way change the council, that it’s a strong council, because I think one person having the complete say is not good.”  

On infrastructure: 

Arp says that infrastructure is a crucial issue: “It is gonna take millions and millions and millions of dollars to fix what needs to be fixed … Now the sewer treatment plant needs to be, it’s got capacity to hold more, we’re only at 30% capacity, but it’s old … to do the whole thing over will cost millions too.” 

She also is concerned that infrastructure is not being looked at with enough priority saying, “You’ve got pump stations … they’re undersized, nobody ever thought about the growth being what it is, so they’re undersized. When I was in office, assisted living, those [developers] came and asked the council, ‘can we hook on?’ The mayor was like yeah … no problem. Well, come to find out once they get open, the pump station down there was not upgraded. So, sewer was running out on the ground. The city had to pay for the pump station to be upgraded.” 

She also talks about the water lines throughout the city, “We’re talking about lines all over this city, galvanized water lines that are corroding on the inside out … water from the treatment plant … is going through the water into our pumps, and it’s posing a health hazard, because when it breaks down it’s not safe … Then same thing with sewer lines. Sewer lines are terracotta clay pipes, that is breaking down and sewage is going out into the ground.” 

Arp explains that, as she sees it, money is the biggest challenge to fixing the city’s infrastructure: “Until somebody steps up and quits wasting money on this, that, and whatever, and dedicates that … we are gonna start saving money.” Proactive decisions need to be made, she argues: “They’re just doing what they have to do. Fix the problems, repair, just do what they have to do to get through the day. But, at some point, if it’s not take seriously, something ain’t done about it, it’s gonna be a big big problem, even worse than it is now … You can’t ignore it, you’ve got to start doing something: planning and saving.” 

On affordable housing; 

“If all these businesses downtown, if they can’t get workers, because the workers can’t afford a place to live around here, or there’s just simply no places to live, then that hurts everybody. That hurts that business, that hurts then the revenue brought in from that business. The tax dollars, that hurts the county’s revenue, it hurts the city’s, it hurts everybody. So that to me is a big thing, Arp says. She notes that while she is in support of affordable housing, she thinks it takes some type of developer that can use federal funding to ensure the housing is actually affordable for those who need it.

To Voters: 

“I want them to consider whether or not they like what they see in the city. If they feel like enough focus, and enough priority, has been put on them, and if so, then vote for the same, because you’re going to get the same. If you don’t like it, then vote for change … History has a way of repeating itself, if you want change, then you have to make the change.” 


FYN made an effort to contact every candidate, but we were ultimately unable to speak with Post 1 candidates Herald Herndon and Jack Taylor; Post 3 candidate Christy Kay; Post 4 candidates Jacqueline Brown and William Whaley; and Post 5 candidates Bill Bivins and Nathan Fitts. Early voting is already underway and Election Day is Nov. 2, 2021. 

City Council Election: Interview with Rhonda Haight

City Council, Election
Rhonda Haight

FANNIN, Ga. — Rhonda Haight, an incumbent on the city council, is running for Mayor of Blue Ridge. She spoke with FYN to share her current views and future goals for Blue Ridge. She is running against Donna Whitener, the incumbent mayor of 12 years. 

On new leadership: 

When asked why she thinks Blue Ridge is ready for a new mayor, Haight says, “I’ll tell you why … I sat in the meeting two years ago and watched the sunshine law being violated, and this is after the mayor had practically misled the council on annexation as well as the public, and I realized then at that meeting … that I would not continue on this road under her leadership.” She says she made the decision that night to run for office in the next election. Haight also notes: “I do feel like, probably I am the most qualified because I do have experience with budget … I have 12 years of experience just as she does, but mine’s been as a council person, and of course when you’re involved from this angle, you know the makings of the city.” 

On council decorum: 

Haight says that good, consistent meeting policies and unity are important parts of having an effective city council: “You set a good meeting policy, that’s not changed consistently … so, you put a good policy in place that satisfies the citizens, and allows them input, but also keeps the meetings orderly, that’s one of the first things. Secondly, you bring a council together with unity, you don’t try to pull people apart, and you don’t mislead them with information.” 

On city manager: 

The council had previously voted to create a city manager position in Blue Ridge, but Haight says “Speaker Ralston … felt like we needed to have another town hall meeting … he felt like that we needed more input from the community.” She notes that regardless of the outcome on Nov. 2, she will push for a town hall meeting on the subject: “I do plan to have town hall meeting in November. Nathan Fitts and I have both talked about that, and several other candidates … doesn’t matter if I win or lose, the city needs that going forward.” Haight says that after the town hall meeting, if the city is in favor, she hopes to send it back to the general assembly to be passed, and implemented immediately. 


At Blue Ridge’s City Council Election Forum, Haight brought up feathering zones in the city. She elaborates, “When I say feathering, our ordinances actually state that this is how it should be done … you should go from your highest use, which is CBD [Central Business District], and then it goes to C2 down to C1 … so it needs to stagger, and that’s what I mean by that.” Haight also mentions that zoning ordinances are not being followed all the time: “I think if we simply follow our rules, then it shouldn’t be a problem … the ordinance reads where it should be staggered down from its lowest use, then to residential, and that takes both parties.” 

On affordable housing:

Haight says that housing is an important issue in Fannin County. “Affordable housing is needed. The average list price of a house in Blue Ridge as of … last monday is $817,000,” Haight emphasizes. She then notes that the average income in Blue Ridge is around $30,000: “So,when we look at affordable housing, we’re looking at workforce housing, transitional housing.” Haight also addressed what she considers a misconception about affordable housing, saying, “I think the way some people are twisting it, is that it’s housing that would bring in crime, and I think that is very discriminatory, and really I don’t think federal housing would appreciate any of that.” She also mentions that housing issues lead to worker issues: “Our shops, right now a lot of them can’t open because they don’t have workers.” 

On infrastructure: 

Haight believes there are misconceptions about the city’s infrastructure as well. For that reason, she says, she facilitated a meeting with engineers to discuss it. Haight then brings up a ten year plan that was implemented to address infrastructure issues. “Currently we are working on replacing old parts, and our [water and sewer] buildings,” which Haight says is a project that will cost around $5 million. However, Haight believes if the city stays on track with the plan, the city will have a “wonderful water and sewer system.” 

On communication and public involvement:

“I’d like to see more town hall meetings,” Haight remarks. She also says she would like to see more public comment spots during city council meetings: “Why would you restrict what the people want to … say?” Haight also believes involving the public in committees is a great way to increase public involvement. Other than that, she also proposes website improvements and holding two city council meetings a month. 


Haight considers one of her biggest achievements to be reducing building height limits. She says, “One of the things I’m most proud of, is the fact that I spearheaded the effort to reduce … building heights downtown, and I’ve been working on that for a while. It’s been over a year’s process for the moratorium up to this, so I guess really, knowing how the public hates the big tall buildings downtown, I think reducing the building size is … probably one of my biggest accomplishments.” 

To Voters: 

“I want them to remember that I truly live in downtown, and that I truly live in the city limits. And, you know if for any reason other than that, that’s why they should vote for me, because it has been questioned numerous times as to my opponents to where she lives … our charter clearly states that you have to live in the city limits, and you must have lived here for a year consecutively. Anyone who knows, they know that I live here, and you know I would say, if you remember anything … when you’re voting, think about the truthfulness to this situation.” 


FYN made an effort to contact every candidate, but we were ultimately unable to speak with Post 1 candidates Herald Herndon and Jack Taylor; Post 3 candidate Christy Kay; Post 4 candidates Jacqueline Brown and William Whaley; and Post 5 candidates Bill Bivins and Nathan Fitts. Early voting is already underway and Election Day is Nov. 2, 2021. 


City Council Election: Interview with Mayor Donna Whitener

City Council, Election
Whitener headshot

FANNIN, Ga. — Donna Whitener is running for re-election as Mayor of Blue Ridge. She has been incumbent mayor for 12 years. She spoke with FYN to discuss her  experiences as mayor, and her goals for the future. She is running against Rhonda Haight, an incumbent on the city council. 

On infrastructure:

Whitener says, “We’ve actually done quite a few infrastructure projects … we spent about 18 million dollars in rehab on water plants, transmission lines, two new million gallon tanks.” She clarifies that those projects took place in the beginning of her time as mayor, and that more recently: “We’ve done probably another 20 million in different projects such as water line replacements, streetscape projects, renovation projects, so you know we’ve done a lot of things that have taken care of the … infrastructure and the structures in our community that are important to us.” 

On city sewer: 

“You know we’re just now starting to do a lot with sewer. We’re starting to see some sewer issues pop up, and we’ve seen those all along because a lot of the lines are terracotta,” Whitener explains, “Our sewer system is so much smaller than our water system, we have over three thousand customers on our water system, but we have just a little over a thousand customers on our sewer system.” She also explains that while the infrastructure is dated, the capacity of the system has only recently become an issue: “That’s starting to happen because those lines just can’t handle it, they’re caving in, and they’re needing to be … replaced.” 

On building heights: 

Whitener says, “I know the big one that everybody ask about is the 60 foot in height. That’s been there since 1978. Over the years we’ve had a lot of tall buildings, some of those have burned, been torn down, changed over the years, but its always been that. In the last two terms … there has been a lot of talk about changing the height.” She says that two Planning and Development administrations have recommended that the height limit be reduced to 45 feet, but she says the council never wanted to take action: “They never wanted to change the height at that point. Never even talked about going to the 35 foot … it’s been through planning commission, its been through council members, and you know they’ve now made it 35 foot, but in the last time that we had a discussion about it … it didn’t happen.” 

On city manager form of government: 

Whitener says that the biggest challenge with any form of government is “Nobody’s actually studied the city manager form of government.” Whitener explains when she was first elected, she was in favor of a city manager, but soon changed her mind: “As I started talking with other mayors and council members, city manager form of government is only typically done in larger cities. We only have about, well we have a population of a little over 1200 people.” She notes a small number of small towns who have a city manager, while the vast majority favor a mayor. 

Whitener also cites a high turnover rate, a high level of control, and the impersonality of a city manager: “In our little city, a lot of our folks are my age … those folks like to pick up the phone … they like having that person they can talk to, they’ve got my phone number, they’ve got me on speed dial, if there’s anything going wrong at their house, if a tree fell, if they’ve had a storm, I get a call.” She says her personal connection with citizens is important, and it is lost with a city manager. 

On zoning: 

“I’m the only council member that has done any planning and zoning training,” Whitener says, “Planning and zoning involves people’s property, and it involves dollars, it involves their money, their livelihood and the people around them, it affects their livelihood too.” She says that training for the council would help them handle the increasingly difficult issue of growth and overdevelopment: “I think that planning and zoning training would help them look at it from a bigger picture, as to what it does to the entire neighborhood, rather than just ‘that’s a frame of mind’ or ‘that’s somebody I know’ or ‘that’s somebody that talks a good game’ … I think it helps you to sort out what makes sense and what doesn’t.”

On the City of Blue Ridge Police: 

Whitener first explains that growth in Blue Ridge is causing an increased burden on police. From more wrecks to small incidents in town, she says the uptick is putting stress on the city’s officers: “We only have 10 officers, we’ve got 4 part time, we’re really needing to staff up.”  

“We put money aside to hire two new officers. The problem is finding those people … with all that happened in the last few years, the defund the police, the ugliness that they were having to go through … a lot of people said ‘you know, I’m not putting my life on the line for everybody anymore, I’m tired i want to go home and enjoy my family,’ and I understand that. So, a lot of folks have gotten out of that field, so we’ve got to find those folks that we can recruit from somewhere that are still interested. 

Whitener also says, “Maybe if they have the support system from the mayor and the council, as to we want good police officers, we’re not gonna tell you to stand back, we’re gonna tell you to move forward. You’re a police officer, you know what to do and you know when to do it. So, … we’ve got to make sure that those officers know that we support them.” 

On affordable housing:

“There’s a lot of gossip that affordable housing didn’t get passed. Affordable housing has not been on any kind of yes or no vote. What did not get passed was they wanted to rezone an area where we already have some sewer issues. We thought some of those had already been resolved, but its not … three days before the vote came up, they had had another blow out in that area that had caused some problems, and so we had about a million dollar repair on the line and a pump station before any major housing at all could go in there. It was 15 acres that they wanted to put 170 units in. If we had rezoned that to R3, we would have been obligated to put them on our sewer system, which would have not worked. It would … have been a problem… we couldn’t have done it, it would have ruined the entire sewer system for everybody else in the neighborhood.” 

Whitener clarifies, “It’s not that I’m not for affordable housing, and for workforce housing, because I know it’s needed. I get calls … pretty often, but I have rental properties myself, and so I know that there’s a need out there. But, the problem you have is a lot of people are trying to sell the affordable housing, that that was … voted on, but it was not, it was actually the area they chose.” 

In the future, Whitener says: “That’s my goal with affordable housing, I want to make sure that we’re not selling out our affordable housing to folks from the Atlanta area … I want to make sure that we take care of the people in Blue Ridge and Fannin County first.” 

To voters: 

“I’ve always supported my citizens. They’ve been able to reach me 24/7. I’ve had to say no to some citizens, but I’ve always given them the reasons that I couldn’t do what they wanted. I’m approachable, I’m reachable … I want citizens to know that I’m there for them, and I’m there to make sure that we have a secure and safe community.” 


FYN made an effort to contact every candidate, but we were ultimately unable to speak with Post 1 candidates Herald Herndon and Jack Taylor; Post 3 candidate Christy Kay; Post 4 candidates Jacqueline Brown and William Whaley; and Post 5 candidates Bill Bivins and Nathan Fitts. Early voting is already underway and Election Day is Nov. 2, 2021. 


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