Blue Ridge Alcohol Committee continues ordinance discussion

Business, News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The topics of possibility extending weekend drinking hours for restaurants and the future of employee permits headlined the discussion at the third Blue Ridge Alcohol Committee meeting Tuesday, May 29.

The meeting consisted of an informal round-table discussion that included the committee, which consists of city council members Robbie Cornelius and Harold Herndon, city residents David Gray (absent from the meeting) and Larry Versyn, and local business owners Stuart Arp and Ken Brenneman, as well as Mayor Donna Whitener, Police Chief Johnny Scearce, city supervisor of tax and licensing Sally Smith, and local business owners Brendan Doyle and Scott Peters.

The idea of extending hours during which establishments are allowed to serve alcohol was originally proposed by Arp, owner of Chester Brunnemeyer’s Bar and Grill, at the first Alcohol Committee meeting April 11. Arp suggested extending the cut off time for alcohol service from 11:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

Arp stressed to the committee and attendees that he felt businesses are losing tourist dollars from visitors who are unaware of the 11:30 p.m. cut off time and do not begin to arrive in the downtown area until 9:30 or 10 p.m.

“It would be a good thing to give us the option, whether (business owners) implement it or not,” said Doyle, owner of The Boro Inn, of the possibility of extending the cut off time on weekends.

In addition, Arp stated he would like to amend the beginning of alcohol service from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Brenneman, owner of Blue Jeans Pizza and Pasta, objected to the idea of modifying the morning start time for alcohol sales. “We have places of business that serve breakfast, and if they want to serve a mimosa, they ought to be able to serve a mimosa. Just like you ought to be able, or you guys are pushing, to serve liquor at 1 a.m. in the morning,” Brenneman stated to Arp.

To this, Arp clarified his proposal was for a 12:30 a.m. cut off with all patrons to be vacated from establishments by 1 a.m.

“There are events that drive people in here that are looking to go out late,” Arp stated. “Even some of the employees, there’s no place for them to go (after work) because (businesses are) already closed. I don’t think 12:30 a.m. is egregious by any means … and I’m only saying for two nights a week.”

Concerning the potential 12:30 a.m. cut off, Versyn stated he believed it was “not unreasonable.”

Mayor Whitener also mentioned she felt a later cut off could possibly attract local residents who work until 6 or 7 p.m. or even later to come out who normally would not.

Regarding employee serving permits, the committee revisited the proposed ordinance amendment from January, which would require employees to reapply for a new permit every year at a cost of $30 instead of once every three years.

When Cornelius asked the business owners present where they stood on the proposal, Arp, Doyle and Peters all felt the change would be too much of a hardship for employees. Brenneman, however, favored the change to one year.

Offering an explanation for the proposed change, Smith told the committee of a local bartender who had recently received two DUIs (driving under the influence) in the time following the issuance of his serving permit. “We never knew about it (and) he’s not supposed to have that,” Smith said, referring to the serving permit.

“I can understand both sides; I’d split the difference (and) go two years,” Chief Scearce said. “You’re right on some points and you’re right on your points, but what I’m saying is this … say someone got out there and got popped in Atlanta at a concert with a bag of dope in their pocket … We’d never know about it till we run (a check).”

The committee also discussed the legality of “sip and shop” events at downtown businesses.

At the May 2 meeting, Versyn stated he had heard of retail establishments serving alcohol to patrons after hours while they shopped, and he expressed a concern over this.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Chief Scearce explained business owners cannot serve or sell alcohol to customers either privately or after hours, but business owners themselves are allowed to consume alcohol in their place of business after hours.

“You’re saying it’s still okay to lock the doors and then drink all night long in their establishment as long as they’re not selling it?” Versyn asked Scearce.

Again, Scearce stressed to Versyn business owners are not allowed to serve customers, but “if these (owners) want to sit in their business after it’s closed and sit there all night long and get drunk off their hind end, I could care less. But when they come out on that road, they’re mine.”

Also, in the January ordinance amendments, which passed a first public hearing by the city council but was never adopted, a provision was proposed for the mayor and/or council members who hold a 10 percent or higher ownership in an establishment to recuse him or herself from voting on any matter that would involve said establishment.

The Alcohol Committee appeared in agreement that this amendment should be approved as originally presented.

Moving forward, City Attorney James Balli is expected to draft a new proposal for amendments to the alcohol ordinance based on the recommendations and discussions of the Alcohol Committee over the past two months and present them to the city council at a future 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 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.

City boards restructuring draws criticism

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – An ordinance to restructure the city’s Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals was approved by the Blue Ridge City Council during its May 8 meeting Tuesday.

Last month, a first reading of the ordinance was presented during the council meeting. As explained then by City Attorney James Balli, the ordinance would condense both the Zoning Board of Appeals and the city Planning Commission from seven members to five members each. Balli further explained each city council member would appoint one member to serve on each board and appointees would be allowed to serve on both boards, if the council member so desired. According to Balli, the ordinance would amend an already established city ordinance to be compliant with the City Charter and state law.

After a second reading this month, the ordinance was approved unanimously. According to Balli, the council’s appointments are Gene Holcombe to serve as Councilwoman Robbie Cornelius’ appointment to both the Planning Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals, Cindy Trimble to serve as Councilwoman Rhonda Haight’s appointment on both boards, Mark Engledow and Angelina Powell to serve as Councilman Harold Herndon’s appointments to the Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals, respectively, Rick Skelton to serve as Councilman Nathan Fitts’ appointment to both boards, and Thomas Kay and Michael Eaton to serve as Councilman Ken Gaddis’ appointments to the Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals, respectively.

At the end of the meeting, Eaton, existing chairman of city Zoning Board of Appeals, spoke to the council concerning the changes to the two boards.

“What I have a problem with is we’ve basically eliminated three positions on the Zoning Board of Appeals tonight for three different people who have put in a lot of time and effort for their part and were not contacted or told any of this was going to happen,” Eaton stated.

“John Soave, Ralph Garner, Brendan Doyle – when are their terms up?” Eaton asked.

To this, Mayor Donna Whitener responded, “Their terms are up as of today.”

“I feel like we’ve all been left in the dark. This has been done very disrespectfully,” Eaton added, saying he was only contacted by Gaddis who notified Eaton he would be the councilman’s appointment. “I think it’s been done very poorly.”

A second reading for an Illumination Ordinance amendment was also presented and approved at this month’s meeting. The ordinance, according to its wording, makes it “unlawful for any person, organization of persons, or entity to willfully tamper with, illegally project light upon, mutilate or deface any City personal or real property, including, without limitation, trees, other plants, buildings, drive-in theaters screens, vehicles or other equipment for lighting, firefighting, police protection or water and sewer installation and maintenance.” First-time violators of the ordinance now face a civil fine of at least $500 and subsequent violations are punishable by a civil fine of at least $500 and up to 90 days in jail.

An amendment to change the rules of procedure at council meetings to allow for more public commentary on action items was approved unanimously by the council. As explained by Balli, the amendment will now allow five sections of public commentary at two minutes per person on a first come, first serve basis for any item requiring a vote from the council. Following the end of the public commentary, the council would then vote on the item. The amendment also allows for individuals to speak on any late additions to the agenda without having to request ahead of time to be on the agenda to speak themselves.

Jeff Stewart, city zoning supervisor, presented bids and estimates for repairs to the roof at City Hall. The council unanimously approved and awarded two bids: one from GoCo for $6,650 for the demolition and removal of the bank drive-through and another from Trademark Coatings for $35,427.50 for the repair of the main roof of the building. According to Trademark’s estimate and scope of work, the cost will include pressure washing and reuse of the existing shingles, which were deemed to still be in good condition, and application of a urethane foam base coat, which is designed to create a seamless roofing system.

The city received $20,165.00 in insurance claims for damage sustained to city hall during a storm in the spring of 2017.

The council unanimously approved an allotment of up to $10,000 for remodel of the city police department building on Church Street. In February, the council approved a previous amount up to $10,000 for needed repairs and renovation of the police department. Mayor Whitener explained after initial work to the building began, further problems and issues were also revealed, but she anticipated that the further work should cost under the additional $10,000.

Police Chief Johnny Scearce stated further repairs and upgrades to the building, built in 1936, will include repairs to a corner of the roof, replacement of gutters and fascia boards, and upgrades to the lights and electrical wiring system. “One thing led into another,” Chief Scearce said of the building renovation.

Replacement of the slide deck at the city pool was discussed after the city received a quote from Miracle Recreation Equipment Company in the amount of $6,009.86 to replace the slide. Councilwoman Rhonda Haight questioned the decision to replace the slide considering the uncertain future of the city pool and potential liability issues with the slide.

“Considering we don’t really know the future of the pool, do we just take it down for right now or spend $6,000?” Haight said. “I would suggest just take the slide out, (because) first of all, (it is) a liability, and second, because we don’t know (the pool’s) future.”

Whitener stated parts to repair the pool thus far for the upcoming season have amounted to under $5,000, which was considerably less than originally anticipated. The mayor seemly advocated for the replacement of the slide stating the slide is heavily used by children at the pool and removal of the slide would require additional concrete work.

“Well, I would have to agree with Rhonda,” Councilman Nathan Fitts said. “To keep spending money with the unknown future of the pool, to me, doesn’t make financial sense.”

After further discussion, the council approved for the slide to be taken down.

In public commentary, Gene Holcombe spoke on behalf of the Blue Ridge Business Association and inquired of the city’s progress with adding downtown public restrooms and parking space. Mayor Whitener told Holcombe Councilman Herndon had recently suggested the idea of building a small restroom unit near the large public parking lot off of Mountain Street as early as this summer using detainee labor and engineering assistance from Councilman Gaddis’ All Choice Plumbing company. As for the parking situation, Whitener told Holcombe the parking study, which was approved in the council’s April meeting, was still in the process of being completed.

After an executive session, Councilwoman Haight made a motion to “resolve a claim involving 0.03 acres with Campbell Camp Investments LLC and to give the mayor authority to sign a quick claim for that property.” After a second from Gaddis, the motion passed unanimously.

The council approved three invoices from the city’s water system engineering firm, Carter & Sloope:

  • In the amount of $13,092.50 for various engineering services, Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) permitting for water line work on state Route 515 near BB&T bank and on state Route 60 in Mineral Bluff and plan reviews of the Fannin County Agriculture and Public Safety Complex buildings;
  • In the amount of $11,639.10 for continued monitoring of metals and temperature at the city’s wastewater treatment facility; and
  • In the amount of $11,363.75 for providing preliminary cost estimates to GDOT for proposed utility relocation along state Route 5 as part of the forthcoming highway expansion.

 

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.

Food Allergy Awareness Week in Blue Ridge, Fannin County May 13-19

Community

[Featured image: Mayor Donna Whitener, seated, signs a proclamation declaring May 13 through 19 to be Food Allergy Awareness Week in Blue Ridge. Seen here at the proclamation signing are, from left to right, Abigail Baliles, Jennifer Addington, Whitener, and City Clerk Kelsey Ledford.]

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Blue Ridge Mayor Donna Whitener and Fannin County Board of Commissioners Chairman Stan Helton both signed a proclamations Wednesday, May 2, declaring May 13 through 19 to be Food Allergy Awareness Week in the city of Blue Ridge and in Fannin County.

According to the proclamations, “An estimated 15 million people in the United States have food allergies, including 6 million children under the age of 18.”

In addition, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates food allergies result in over 200,000 ambulatory care visits per year involving children under 18. “Reactions typically occur when an individual unknowingly eats a food containing an ingredient to which they are allergic,” the CDC states.

A copy of the proclamation signed Wednesday, May 2, by Board of Commissioners Chairman Stan Helton declaring May 13 through 19 to be Food Allergy Awareness Week in Fannin County.

On hand for the proclamations was Jennifer Addington, local resident and co-founder of the Northeast Georgia Food Allergy Support Group (NGFASG), and her daughter Abigail Baliles. Increasing allergy awareness in Fannin, Gilmer and Union counties, the NGFASG is formally recognized by Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) and Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Connection Team (FAACT), both nationally trusted sources of food allergy information in the United States.

Abigail, a seventh-grader at Fannin County Middle School, suffers from egg, peanut and tree nut allergies, which are three of the eight most common food allergies, according to FARE. “Nine out of 10 allergic reactions in the U.S. occur from milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish,” FARE states.

Addington said although Abigail’s allergies were detected early in her life, the severity of her daughter’s allergies at times can affect the normalcy of a typical middle school aged child, citing school functions such as taking field trips as one common activity where her the safety of her daughter has to be closely considered.

Symptoms of allergic reactions can be mild or severe. Mild symptoms can include a breakout of hives, eczema, redness of skin around the eyes, itchy mouth or ear canal, nausea, diarrhea, stomach pain, nasal congestion, sneezing, coughing, odd tastes in the mouth, and/or uterine contractions. Severe symptoms can include obstructive swelling of the throat, lips and/or tongue, problems swallowing, shortness of breath, turning blue, a decrease in blood pressure, feeling faint, confused and/or weak, loss of consciousness, chest pain, and/or a weak pulse.

“Severe symptoms, alone or in combination with milder symptoms, may be signs of anaphylaxis and require immediate treatment,” FARE explains. “Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that comes on quickly, often impacts the whole body, and may cause death.”

The proclamation encourages increased awareness of the causes and symptoms of food allergies and anaphylaxis among the citizens of Blue Ridge and Fannin County.

For more information on how one can support the Northeast Georgia Food Allergy Support Group (NGFASG), contact Jennifer Addington at jennifer@northeastgafoodallergy.org or visit the website at www.northeastgafoodallergy.org.

For more information on food allergies, visit the FARE website at www.foodallergy.org.

 

 

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.

GoCo donates receptacles for city to use during Georgia Cities Week

Community, News

[Featured image: Pictured are, from left to right: Jeff Stewart, city zoning; Glenda Herndon, city hall receptionist; Robbie Cornelius, city councilwoman; Kelsey Ledford, city clerk; Josh Golden, owner of GoCo; Donna Whitener, mayor; Becky Harkins, water and utilities director; Barbie Gerald, clerk of court, Sally Smith, city taxes and licensing; and Alicia Stewart, finance director.]

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – GoCo recently donated four trash receptacles to the city of Blue Ridge to use during Georgia Cities Week April 22 through 28. With the two dumpsters previously by Advanced Disposal, the city has six trash receptacles for residents to use during Georgia Cities Week.

As a part of a citywide clean-up to celebrate the week, residents are asked to bring any waste or trash except for items containing Freon, liquid paint or tires to three area locations:

  • Blue Ridge Farmer’s Market (only small brush and bagged leaves in the Advanced Disposal container);
  • Kiwanis Fairgrounds; and
  • First Baptist Church of Blue Ridge parking lot on the corner of Church and East First streets.

Two other locations – Blue Ridge City Hall and the Ada Street, LLC property near Hampton Square –  have containers in which small brush and bagged leaves can be disposed.

The city of Blue Ridge would like to thank the following people and organizations for their help with this clean-up during Georgia Cities Week: Josh and Erin Golden with GoCo, Richie Walker with Advanced Disposal, the Blue Ridge Kiwanis Club, First Baptist Church of Blue Ridge, and the property owners of Ada Street, LLC.

 

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.

Letter to the Editor for Georgia Cities Week

Community, Letters to Editor
Blue Ridge

To the Editor:

During the week of April 22-28 the City of Blue Ridge will join other cities across Georgia in celebrating Georgia Cities Week. This week has been set aside to recognize the many services city governments provide and their contribution to a better quality of life in Georgia. Our theme, “Cities in the Spotlight” reflects the role cities play in the state’s history, economy and culture.

City government is truly government of, by and for the people – the people who are making the decisions about our community are your neighbors, business owners and community leaders. We are in this together, and we want our city to thrive.

We recognize that throughout our lifetimes, the average person will have more direct contact with local governments than with state or federal governments. Because of this, we feel a responsibility to ensure that the public knows how the city operates and feels connected to their city government.

During this week, we want to recognize the role city government plays in our lives: from historic preservation to trash collection to public safety to promoting the area’s culture and recreation. We hope you will join us in this celebration and learn more about your city and how it operates for you. For more information on how you can participate, please contact our City Clerk, Kelsey Ledford by calling 706-632-2091 ext. 7 or emailing kledford@cityofblueridgega.gov.

Sincerely,

Mayor Donna Whitener

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.

Finances discussed, ‘interim’ tag removed from Chief Scearce at city council meeting

News

[Featured image: The Blue Ridge City Council welcomed Richie Walker, territory sales manager for Advanced Disposal, to its April meeting. Advanced Disposal will be donating two dumpsters to be used during Georgia Cities Week April 21 through 27 during which the city will be sponsoring a city-wide clean-up where residents are encouraged to dispose of yard trash at one of two dumpsters located at City Hall and the Farmer’s Market. Seen here are, from left to right, front: Councilwoman Robbie Cornelius, Councilwoman Rhonda Haight, Walker, Mayor Donna Whitener; back: Councilman Nathan Fitts and Councilman Ken Gaddis.]

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Blue Ridge City Council addressed potential projects and city finances as well as removed the “interim” tag from Police Chief Johnny Scearce at their Tuesday, April 10, meeting.

Alicia Stewart, city finance director, presented an extensive break-down of the city’s finances along with current projects being undertaken by the city during a capital planning session. The purpose of the session, as explained by Mayor Donna Whitener, was to develop 12 to 18-month plan for the city.

Stewart began by addressing the city water fund and announced the amounts of revenue versus the cost of current projects, such as the current Community Development Block Grant project match ($79,244.46), phase II of the East Main Street project ($372,243.41), and a payoff for a 2015 Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) loan ($108,000) among others. All told, the city has approximately $884,780.81 in cash available remaining in the water fund balance, according to Stewart.

However, also in her presentation, Stewart presented the council with a list of prioritized water infrastructure needs anticipated for the city over the next five years. Among those needed projects are an over $2 million line relocation project for water lines required by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) for the forthcoming state Route 5 highway expansion, a $500,000 upgrade project to the Aska Road sewer substation and a projected $640,000 for phases III and IV of a meter replacement project.

“Bottom line is we have $884,000 in spendable money, and we’ve got about $4 million in projects,” Whitener said. “So the next time somebody says, ‘Oh, we’ve got all these projects,’ we don’t have money … and these are projects that really can’t stay on the back burner too much longer.”

As far as this year’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) revenue, Whitener suggested two road projects: a turning lane for Blue Ridge Elementary School and a repaving project on West First Street. The mayor stated after those projects and factoring a negative balance of $46,707 from last year’s SPLOST, about $50,000 will remain in SPLOST funds this year.

Stewart also explained there is an amount of $320,523.09 in cash available from the general fund and close to $584,000 in reserves, which is $400,000 from the sale of the marina property and a $183,000 cd (certificate of deposit).

“Those two together put us just right at the $600,000-ish that would be needed to meet our policy of holding 25 percent of our budget as reserve,” Stewart explained. “So, if we dip into that, we’re not reserving according to our policy.”

Whitener then announced a list of potential projects and the ensuing costs she told the council to consider, including approximately $100,000 for repairs to the city hall roof, $75,000 to $100,000 for stormwater run-off projects, up to $300,000 for a grant match for downtown bathrooms, $350,000 to $400,000 for major upgrades and renovations of the city pool, and undetermined amounts for potential renovations of the farmer’s market, renovations of the deck at the depot and several street projects.

“I need you all to be thinking about this before the next meeting because you are going to have to make some decisions,” Whitener told the council.

Later in the meeting, Councilwoman Rhonda Haight proposed the idea of hiring an independent contractor to conduct a comprehensive parking study for the city. Haight explained that she and Councilman Nathan Fitts had recently participated in several meetings in an effort to obtain grants for enhancing downtown parking and installing downtown public restrooms.

“Everybody we’ve met with so far they’ve asked do we have a comprehensive parking study in place,” Haight said, “and pretty much, for us to get any money, if we even can with grants or even a loan, we’re going to have to have a comprehensive parking study.”

Haight also stated the city, last year, had received an estimate for a parking study that would cost $28,000 to $30,000.

Concerning the requirement of the study to apply for grants, Fitts added, “We’ve been sitting down at a lot of these meetings and the requirements to even apply for grants and get grants is more comprehensive than I ever even realized, so we’re going to have to have this regardless.”

After this, Haight made a motion to proceed with steps to conduct the study, which was followed by a second from Fitts with the provision for the city to receive estimates for the study. Initially, the vote was stalled when Fitts and Haight voted in favor of the study, but council members Robbie Cornelius, Ken Gaddis and Harold Herndon all delayed in voting. Cornelius and Gaddis both questioned the financing of the study.

“One of reasons I asked Alicia (Stewart) to look at doing as much as she did on the (capital planning information) you got today is so you understood where the money is and where it will have to come from, so therefore, if you approve up to $30,000 for this study, remember that you’re pushing something else (another project) down the road,” Whitener told the council.

Another vote was taken with Fitts and Haight again voting in favor, Cornelius and Gaddis voting against and Herndon abstaining. After consulting with City Attorney James Balli as to the nature of the vote, Mayor Whitener voted in favor of the parking study to break the tie, allowing for the city to proceed with the study as proposed.

In other items, the council also unanimously voted to appoint Johnny Scearce as the Blue Ridge City Police chief without the attached tag of “interim”. At the first city council meeting of the the new year and new administration Jan.9, the council voted unanimously to add the title of “interim” to Scearce’s role as police chief until such time as another permanent police chief could be installed to replace Scearce. At this month’s meeting, the decision to remove the “interim” tag was made without discussion or explanation as to the council’s reasoning behind the move.

First readings for two city ordinances were given at the meeting. The first ordinance, as explained by City Attorney James Balli, would condense both the Zoning Board of Appeals and the city Planning Commission from seven members to five members each. Balli further explained each city council member would appoint one member to serve on each board and appointees would be allowed to serve on both boards. According to Balli, the ordinance, if passed, would amend an already established city ordinance to be compliant with the City Charter and state law.

The other ordinance, termed an Illumination Ordinance, would, according to the wording, make it “unlawful for any person, organization of persons, or entity to willfully tamper with, illegally project light upon, mutilate or deface any City personal or real property, including, without limitation, trees, other plants, buildings, drive-in theaters screens, vehicles or other equipment for lighting, firefighting, police protection or water and sewer installation and
maintenance.” First-time violators of the ordinance would face a civil fine of at least $500 and subsequent violations would be punishable by a civil fine of at least $500 and up to 90 days in jail.

The council voted to increase water rates for wholesale users from $3.25 per 1,000 gallons to $4.25 per 1,000 gallons. Becky Harkins, city utilities director, explained that the cost to the city to produce and provide water to wholesale users has recently increased to $3.75 per 1,000 gallons. Harkins also added that, if approved, the rate increase would take effect in 90 days, beginning with the July billing cycle. After Mayor Whitener asked Anita Weaver, chairwoman of the Fannin County Water Authority (FCWA), about the fairness of the 90-day advance notice to the FCWA, Weaver stated the Authority, one of the wholesale users that would be affected by the increase, would prefer a six-month notice. As a compromise, the council approved the rate increase, which will take effect in 120 days as opposed to 90.

In a follow-up discussion from the March 13 meeting, Councilman Gaddis stated that steps are being taken by the council in coordination with City Clerk Kelsey Ledford and City Attorney Balli to amend the city council’s rules of procedures for meetings to allow for more public commentary on action items before a final vote is taken. Gaddis explained he would like to see speakers be given a chance to address the council in an open-mic forum. He also added he did not want to place a limit on the number of speakers allowed to speak. However, Haight suggested setting a time limit for speakers, and Fitts suggested only allowing one person from a given organization or group to speak on a particular action item. Balli stated drafts of the amended rules of procedures are being composed, and Gaddis said he would like for the issue to come to a vote at the May meeting.

The future of the farmer’s market property was again addressed by the council. Haight stated she had received some feedback from two different groups interested in using the farmer’s market in some capacity. Gaddis said he personally had received no interest from anyone.

“If we don’t have anything by the next meeting, I would ask that we maybe could open this up for leasing options,” Gaddis said. “Obviously, strict leasing options to preserve the farmer’s market and everything about the history of the farmer’s market.”

After a brief executive session, the council reconvened and approved two personnel decisions. The council approved Chief Scearce to hire Ricky Henry as an officer starting at a rate of $16 an hour. Also, the hiring of Mark Patterson as water treatment plant supervisor was approved at the rate of $21.50 an hour.

 

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.

No smoking policy on housing authority horizon

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – At the Thursday, March 15, meeting of the Blue Ridge Housing Authority (BRHA), Executive Director Traver Aiken addressed the forthcoming no smoking policy, which is scheduled to take effect for residents August 1, 2018.

The policy is a result of a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development rule published Dec. 5, 2016, and made effective Feb. 3, 2017, that states all public housing agencies nationwide must have a no smoking policy in place by the end of an 18-month implementation period (July 30, 2018).

According to Aiken, the policy bans all lit tobacco products within residences or other buildings on housing authority property. Additionally, once the policy takes effect, residents who smoke will have to do so outside and at least 25 feet from any entrance to a residence. The policy does not ban smokeless tobacco or vaping products.

“I’ve generated the policy. The policy has been sent out for the review for residents’ comments period,” Aiken said.

Also, Aiken told the authority he has already been addressing residents’ input, comments and concerns on the coming policy and will continue to do so through June. One common concern from residents, Aiken said, was the application of the policy to visitors and guests to a residence. To this, Aiken explained the head of household will be held directly responsible for any violations from all visitors or other members of the household.

Though Aiken in prior meetings has expressed concern that the no smoking policy could create a degree of friction between the housing authority and residents or even between residents themselves, the director did mention Thursday that he has received some positive response from residents regarding the policy.

“Most residents have been positively receptive to (the policy),” Aiken told BRHA members. “They’re kind of like, ‘This gives me a reason to quit smoking. I’ve been wanting to quit smoking forever.'”

Aiken also reported to the BRHA he had been communicating with representatives from the American Cancer Society in an effort to establish an onsite cancer pre-screening event in the near future for residents at little to no cost.

Earlier in the meeting, the BRHA approved the nomination of current resident board member Ellan Johnson to continue to serve on the BRHA. Aiken explained Johnson’s appointment depends on official approval and ratification from Mayor Donna Whitener. Once appointed by Whitener, Johnson’s term will span from April 2018 through March 2019.

“We love to have you again Mrs. Johnson,” Aiken said to Johnson. “We appreciate your willingness to participate.”

The authority also approved a $60,000 transfer of funds from the BRHA operating checking account to a money market reserve account. Aiken explained the purpose of the transfer was to receive a higher interest rate in order to build up further reserve funds.

CLARIFICATION: Last month, it was reported Aiken expressed concern over legislation currently on the floor of the Georgia General Assembly that could eliminate a low-income housing tax credit that benefits housing authorities across the state by giving a tax credit to contracted companies developing new units for housing authorities. That legislation is Georgia HB 851, which is a Bill to be entitled an Act to amend Article 2 of Chapter 7 of Title 48 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated. If passed, the legislation could end the tax credit by 2023. Georgia HR 798, on the other hand, was a Resolution adopted by the General Assembly in March 2017 to create a House Study Committee to examine the effectiveness of the low-income tax credit.

 

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.

Farmer’s market property, drive-in discussed at council meeting

News

[Featured image: Jim Sisson, left, of Sisson Log Homes, discusses the possibility of purchasing the farmer’s market property from the city with council members Ken Gaddis, second from left, Nathan Fitts, Mayor Donna Whitener, and City Attorney James Balli.]

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – In a three-hour Blue Ridge City Council meeting Tuesday night, March 13, a wide variety of topics took center stage.

The future of the farmer’s market property off of Summit Street was discussed again. Last month, the council weighed options for the property moving forward and discussed whether to sell, lease or refurbish the property. Strong opposition to sell was voiced by Councilwoman Rhonda Haight and Councilman Ken Gaddis and the council agreed to discuss the issue further at a following meeting.

This month, Jim Sisson, owner of Sisson Log Homes, was present to propose selling the property in a bidding process. Sisson spoke of recent uses, such as held festivals and overflow parking, for the property and stated the property was not an ideal location for either purpose. He also described the property as “negative-performing asset,” meaning that it is and would cost the city more to operate it than the revenue the property would generate. Sisson cited costs for liability insurance and utilities as necessary operating expenditures to the city. Mayor Donna Whitener estimated the city spends between $6,000 and $10,000 a year on utilities alone for the property.

“If you were to sell it us or somebody else, it would at least be bringing in some tax revenue,” Sisson continued.

Whitener mentioned in earlier talks with Sisson, the prospect of leasing the property was discussed. “Have you put any thought into that?” Whitener asked Sisson.

Sisson responded saying his company would prefer to buy the property but would consider leasing it instead. He also added that the property would be used as an overflow area for Sisson Log Homes to store materials in the drying process and no damage would come to the property. “Probably, (we would) not use the platform that is there,” Sisson said.

No decision was made by the council to proceed with any process of either selling or leasing the property.

Another city landmark, the Swan Drive-In, was discussed during the council meeting. Earlier in the day, the city released a statement via social media addressing and denying rumors of the city attempting to close the drive-in as a result of noise complaints received from nearby residents.

In that post, city representatives stated, “The city is committed to working with stakeholders on both sides of the issue to reach a solution that continues to allow the Swan to operate as one of the City’s favorite attractions.”

At the council meeting, City Attorney James Balli also addressed the concern saying, “Let me be clear: the drive-in is going nowhere. I will say that one more time very slowly. The drive-in is going nowhere. The city owns the drive-in. The drive-in will operate. If I had anything to do with shutting down the drive-in, my wife would make me sleep on the couch … I’ve enjoyed it just as many of you have. It’s an attraction to the city.”

However, Balli continued to say the city was beginning to look into various options to address the noise ordinance complaints stemming from the drive-in. The city attorney also stated the operator of the drive-in is exploring methods to reduce noise emanating from the site.

“We would always favor citizens working things out privately without any involvement from the city,” Balli said, adding the city was confident a mutual agreement would soon be reached.

Whitener told the council she visited the drive-in over the previous weekend and was told a 20-foot-high, 100-foot-long noise buffering screen is slated to be installed soon. “So, we won’t know (of the screen’s effectiveness) until it goes up. So give us a chance to work through that,” Whitener said.

Later, Councilman Ken Gaddis spoke of the city’s current policy for meeting decorum. Gaddis stated, “The previous council took a stand to where public comments was not necessary, was not required and definitely was not important.”

Garnering applause from the audience, Gaddis explained he would like to see any item requiring a motion go to public comment before moving to a vote from the council.

“I don’t come up and say I know anything really,” Gaddis continued. “You all voted me in. For whatever reason, you all thought I was important. I came up here with a skill set to help with infrastructure, but everybody in the community has a skill set that’s beyond me, beyond (Councilman) Nathan (Fitts), beyond all of us, and you have an important voice and we want to hear that voice.”

Councilwoman Rhonda Haight agreed with Gaddis and clarified she did not vote on the decision to limit public commentary in the last term.

“However … I’ve seen meetings that have lasted until 11 p.m. I’ve seen meetings that have gotten completely out of control, so we would have to have control. We would have to have time limits on speech,” Haight stated.

Fitts also agreed with both Gaddis on bringing back increased public commentary and with Haight on enforcing order throughout the meeting.

Mayor Whitener explained City Clerk Kelsey Ledford was currently working to amend the meeting policy to allow for more commentary.

A budget amendment to account for incoming funds from a Georgia Municipal Association safety grant, maintenance to City Hall and the Police Department buildings, the hiring of a zoning and land development administrator, and revised pay scales for water department employees was approved by the council.

A conflict of interest exemption statement was approved by the council concerning the $500,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) awarded to the city in 2016 to upgrade water and fire protection infrastructure in portions of neighborhoods east of or near East Second Street. The statement gave public notice of technical conflicts of interest among city council members who either live or own property in the area, have family members who live in the area and/or have business interests in the area.

A town hall meeting was announced to take place at City Hall March 27 at 6 p.m. Mayor Whitener explained the meeting will address public concerns over the CDBG project, which she stated should be halfway completed by then, the farmer’s market property, the city pool, and downtown restrooms among other topics.

In other business, the council discussed the abandonment of an undeveloped portion of Hill Street near East First Street and another unnamed street near the BP gas station on West First Street.

The council also approved an annual $1,500 donation to the Humane Society for the spay and neuter of feral cats throughout Blue Ridge.

A resolution to enter into a memorandum of understanding with Fannin County, McCaysville and Morganton was approved. The memorandum of understanding is an agreement between the entities to share costs for the Nixle emergency management agency (EMA) notification service to residents and citizens.

A resolution declaring April 22 through 28, 2018, to be Georgia Cities Week in Blue Ridge approved and signed by Mayor Whitener.

In public commentary, President of the Blue Ridge Business Association (BRBA) Cesar Martinez stressed to the council the continued need for additional public parking and bathrooms in the downtown business district. Martinez offered the help of the BRBA in forming committees or focus groups to address the situation. In response, Fitts told Martinez both items were top priorities for the council. “We’re not ignoring these. We have a lot going on right now. We are diligently working on them,” Fitts said.

Local sculptor Martin McHan, who created the Blue Bear sculpture that has previously been displayed in the downtown city park, asked about the sculpture’s condition and the kiln-drying process it is currently undergoing. The sculpture was recently removed from the park after a termite infestation was discovered within it. The bear was then transferred to a large kiln operated by Sisson Log Homes in an effort to exterminate the termites. Mayor Whitener explained to McHan after the kiln-drying process is complete, the bear would be painted, restored to the park and the city plans to erect a shelter to protect the sculpture from the weather.

McHan then addressed Jim Sisson directly saying, “Mr. Sisson, I’d like to personally, from the bottom of my heart, thank you … I’d like to thank you for putting (the sculpture) in that kiln because I know how much that costs … It’s a very, very expensive process that this man has donated.”

 

 

 

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.

Transparency discussed at Blue Ridge City Council meeting

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – “Transparency” was a word heard and a topic addressed frequently during the Tuesday, Feb. 13, Blue Ridge City Council meeting.

The topic discussion began in earnest during the council’s first reading and adoption of a purchasing policy amendment. The amendment was explained by Blue Ridge Finance Director Alicia Stewart after Council Member Rhonda Thomas-Haight recommended the policy’s changes be read in an effort to produce “transparency with the audience.”

Blue Ridge City Council, from left, front: Mayor Donna Whitener, council members Rhonda Thomas, Robbie Cornelius; back: council members Harold Herndon, Nathan Fitts and Kenneth Gaddis.

According to the amended policy, the changes will allow purchases up to $500 to be approved by a city department supervisor or the city clerk in a single transaction with no required quotes. Purchases between $500.01 and $2,500 will require one supplier quote, verbal or written, and approval from the department supervisor. Purchases between $2,500.01 and $5,000 will require one written quote, approval of the department supervisor and written authorization of an elected city official. For purchases from $5,000 to $99,999.99, two written quotes, bids, or proposals will be required along with approval from the city council prior to issuance of a purchase order.

Any expenditure over $100,000 whether supplies, equipment or service contracts will “require a contract and
sealed bids or proposals and shall be advertised in the legal organ a minimum of two times, with the first advertisement occurring at least four weeks prior to the opening of sealed bids or proposals.” Also, council approval will be required for these expenditures.

When asked by an audience member why the changes were being made to raise the spending thresholds, Stewart stated the new city council requested the changes to give more responsibility and freedom to department supervisors to make needed expenditures within their allotted budgets.

“An example: we had an issue where we had a fire hydrant that was damaged and (Water and Utilities Director) Becky (Harkins) couldn’t even order a fire hydrant without getting three council members to approve (along with) a department head and all those things,” Mayor Donna Whitener said, “and when a fire hydrant is leaking, you really need to get it replaced or you’re going to have a lot of water on the ground. So, it’s enough to take care of emergency purchases like that.”

After Brian Pritchard, publisher of FetchYourNews, questioned the council about the $100,000 limit and the requirement of bids, Stewart reiterated bids would still be required for purchases below $100,000.00, but the public procedure of advertising the request for bids through the legal organ for four weeks would not be required.

Also, the amendment as originally drafted would have raised meal allowances for city officials on city business trips from $30 a day to $40. However, after council members Robbie Cornelius and Ken Gaddis agreed the amount should be left at $30, the amendment was approved provided the meal allowance remain unchanged.

Later, a conflict of interest disclosure was read concerning a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) awarded to the city in 2016 to upgrade water and fire protection infrastructure in portions of neighborhoods east of or near East Second Street. The disclosure gave public notice of technical conflicts of interest among all city council members, except Gaddis, who either live or own property in the area, have family members who live in the area and/or have business interests in the area. Whitener said that although a similar statement was read previously concerning the project, it occurred during the previous city council administration. The mayor further explained there were similar conflicts among the former council members as well.

“Hopefully, since we’ve read the conflict, there shouldn’t be any issues with that,” Thomas-Haight explained, “because it is transparent.”

Of the public notice, City Clerk Kelsey Ledford explained, “We’ve disclosed all of our conflicts of interest and then at our next council meeting, we’ll have all the paperwork to formally request an exception to the conflicts of interest.”

Also concerning the CDBG project, the council approved to add Ledford to the bank account designated for the project, approved the contract from The Renee Group, the construction firm that will be overseeing the project, and gave approval to Mayor Whitener to sign the notice to proceed with the project after City Attorney James Balli reviews the notice.

Before the council entered into executive session to discuss personnel issues, Pritchard again addressed the council, asking them about the possibility of utilizing workshops, similar to those seen during the former administration, to allow for better transparency to citizens. “This is the second regular meeting and one special called meeting (during the new administration) and you’re doing a lot of first readings, and I’m really not understanding where the council is having these discussions,” Pritchard stated.

Mayor Whitener stated, in regard to the purchasing policy amendment, that she, council member Harold Herndon and all the department supervisors had a previous meeting to discuss the changes to the policy.

“The citizens don’t know this till they get here … You made a major first reading on a purchasing policy tonight,” Pritchard continued. “Could you go back to workshops because I just have a little concern on transparency?”

To this, Thomas-Haight replied, “You will notice too tonight, we have taken interaction from the audience. Our previous council did not do that, and we want people to be involved … We are 100 percent transparent and we are allowed by law to communicate with each other via email, we can call each other … We talk all the time, but we’re not breaking the Sunshine Law because we don’t meet.”

“All I ask is if you could look at (using) workshops. That’s it,” Pritchard said again.

“We’ll consider it,” Thomas-Haight told Pritchard.

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.

New downtown Blue Ridge parking lot is open

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Officials with the city of Blue Ridge announced Thursday, Feb. 1, a new city parking lot is now open and available for downtown visitors to use.

The lot, located on West Main Street between Mountain and Messer streets where Temple Baptist Church once stood, has a per-car, cash only fee of five dollars.

Parking booth located at the entrance of the new Blue Ridge city parking lot on West Main Street.

Parking patrons will need to pick up an envelope containing a perforated ticket from the side of the red-colored parking booth at the entrance to the lot. After filling out the main portion of the ticket with the driver’s name and telephone number, vehicle model, license tag number and date, the stub of the ticket should be placed somewhere in clear view on the dash of the vehicle and the main portion of the ticket, along with five dollars cash, can be dropped in the lock box atop the red booth using the envelope to seal the contents.

Visitors using the parking lot are encouraged to lock their vehicles and take any valuables with them. Overnight parking is not permitted at the lot, and the city of Blue Ridge is not responsible for any damage to and/or theft from vehicles parked in the lot.

At their Jan. 9 meeting, the Blue Ridge City Council voted to enter into a lease with Blue Ridge Hotel, LLC to use the lot for parking until mid-July. As rent for use of the lot, the city will share a 50/50 revenue split with Blue Ridge Hotel, LLC after expenses related to the city’s operation of the lot are deducted. The lot is expected to hold up to 300 vehicles.

“The mayor and council are dedicated to finding a long-term solution to the parking issues we face in downtown Blue

Parking patrons at the West Main Street lot will need to fill out this parking ticket provided by the city of Blue Ridge.

Ridge,” Councilwoman Rhonda Thomas-Haight stated on the city’s Facebook page. “While we work on a comprehensive plan, we are pleased to welcome this short-term solution.”

 

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.

City attorney decision discussed by Whitener, Thomas-Haight

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BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Following the recent hiring of new Blue Ridge city attorney, James A. Balli, at the Jan. 9 city council meeting, Mayor Donna Whitener and Councilwoman Rhonda Thomas-Haight spoke with FetchYourNews about some of the details regarding the city’s decision to replace former city attorney David Syfan with Balli.

Providing specific reasons for replacing Syfan, both Whitener and Thomas-Haight expressed the need for a change in representation.  “(Syfan’s) been with the city for 20 years,” Thomas-Haight stated. “It’s time for a change. Of course, every four years, we appoint that position, and (with) the new council, we just felt like it was time for a change.”

“As I’ve mentioned several times, I felt like (Syfan) didn’t represent the entire group (of the mayor and council members),” Whitener added. “I want a city attorney that works for all six of us and for the city and the citizens.”

The mayor went on to clarify that Balli has not represented any of the city council members or herself previously. She said, “Of course, that became a little bit of an issue … (The new council) felt like they wanted somebody that represented all of us on an equal playing field.”

Mayor Donna Whitener, left, City Attorney James Balli and Councilwoman Rhonda Thomas-Haight attend the Jan. 9 Blue Ridge City Council meeting.

During the city council meeting, in which Balli was hired, Whitener explained that four candidates, in addition to Syfan, applied for the position of city attorney. Balli was inevitably hired at a reduced rate of $175 per hour with a rate of $200 per hour for time spent representing the city in court. Among the other attorneys who applied for the position were local attorneys Lynn Doss and Cortney Stuart, whose clients include Fannin County and city of McCaysville, respectively, and Atlanta attorney Kelly Michael Hundley, who currently represents the city of Hiram, Georgia, according to information obtained from the city of Blue Ridge.

Doss, who, according to Whitener and Thomas-Haight, withdrew her application from consideration prior to the council meeting, had offered her services to the city at the per-hour rate of $175. Stuart offered a rate of $150 per hour with a $100 monthly retainer fee. Hundley proposed a rate of $150 per hour with a $175 per hour rate for legal proceeding representation.

Though Syfan’s previous per-hour rate of $95 was considerably lower than that of Balli’s current rate, Thomas-Haight explained, “I know sometimes it appeared, in my opinion, as if projects seemed to take a long time.”

In regard to the potential hiring of Stuart, Whitener explained that the Georgia Municipal Association, which provides legislative advocacy and consulting services to member cities, had advised the city against such a relationship citing a potential representational conflict of interest.

The mayor further explained that the proper channels of advertisement for the position were utilized through publication in the legal organ. Whitener also stated that she, as well as all incoming city council members except Harold Herndon, had a chance to meet with Balli individually ahead of the meeting in order to make a determination to hire Balli. Whitener stated Herndon was unable to meet with Balli during any of the attorney’s trips to Blue Ridge due to illness.

“I felt good about (meeting with Balli) because he took the time to reach out to us and wanted to meet us and make sure we all could mesh together if we did choose his firm,” Thomas-Haight said.

“Mr. Balli seems to be a good fit for our city,” Thomas-Haight continued. “He is anxious to work with us, and we seem to all be on the same page with how we want to move forward with the city. He wants to be involved in our council meetings and that was a definite plus because Mr. Syfan, even though the charter states that the (city) attorney shall attend the meetings, he had only been to – to my recollection – five (meetings) in eight years.”

Whitener stated Balli has municipal experience and familiarity with water management. According to Balli’s submitted resume to the city, he currently serves as a board member on the Cobb-Marietta Water Authority.

“Becky (Harkins, director of Blue Ridge Water and Utilities department) was extremely impressed because of his water knowledge, and we’re really working on our policies and procedures, so she felt like he would be very beneficial to us in getting those standards to where they need to be,” Mayor Whitener continued.

So who is James A. Balli?

According to Balli’s resume, he received a B.S. in political science from Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, Georgia, in 1996 and later received his Juris Doctorate from the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University in 1999. Also in 1999, Balli was admitted to the State Bar of Georgia and in 2000 was admitted to the State Bar of Alabama.

Balli served in the United States Air Force Reserve from 1992 to 2000 at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama.

Balli currently serves as commissioner on the seven-member Judicial Qualifications Commission of Georgia, which investigates allegations of judicial misconduct of all judges in the state of Georgia. He also currently serves as a board member of the Kennesaw State University Masters of Public Administration Advisory Board where he provides advice and direction to masters’ program students and faculty. Balli has been admitted to practice before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals, the Georgia Court of Appeals, the Alabama Supreme Court, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals, the Middle Districts of Georgia and Alabama, and the Northern District of Georgia.

Among his recent experience, Balli represented the Atlanta Braves during the organization’s recent move from Fulton County to Cobb County, and his other recent clients have included (David) Ralston for Representative, Inc., BrandsMart USA, and the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners.

Balli is a partner at the Marietta law firm Sams, Larkin, Huff & Balli, LLP, which has represented both county governments on related development issues and commercial and private interests on a variety of issues involving elected officials from state, county and municipal governments.

Commenting on his new position with the city, Balli stated, “I am honored to have the opportunity to serve the citizens of Blue Ridge and to work with the mayor and city council as they work to serve the citizens as well. I think Blue Ridge is the best small town in the state of Georgia, and I am excited to be a part of it moving forward.”

Continue to follow FetchYourNews as we plan to produce a six-month financial comparison of the previous city attorney fees to that of the current city attorney in mid-July.

 

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.

City of Blue Ridge receives safety, liability grants

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BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The city of Blue Ridge were the recipients of two Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) grants Friday, Jan. 26. The city received a Safety Grant in the amount of $1,987.16 and a Liability Grant in the amount of $4,574.95 for the purchases of employees rain jackets, a Stream Light portable scene light and portable walk-through metal detector.

Regarding the grants, Eileen Thomas, marketing field manager for GMA, stated, “This program allows each city to stretch their budget dollars and provide a safer work environment for their employees.”

Introduced in 2000, the GMA Safety and Liability Management Grant program provides a financial incentive to assist members in improving their employee safety and general public liability loss efforts through training and the purchase of equipment or services. Over 130 cities have received over 500 grants totaling almost $1.5 million to fund items such as bulletproof vests, training videos, confined space entry equipment, reflective safety vests, fire department turnout gear, and police department in-vehicle video systems.

Based in Atlanta, GMA is a voluntary, non-profit organization that provides legislative advocacy, educational, employee benefit and consulting services to over 500 member cities.

 

[Featured image: GMA Workers Compensation Claims Manager and Liason Brenda Black, City Clerk Kelsey Ledford, Director of Water and Utilities Becky Harkins, City Councilwoman Robbie Cornelius, Mayor Donna Whitener, and City Court Clerk Barbie Gerald.]

 

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.

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.]

 

 

FetchYourNews 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

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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.

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 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.

Blue Ridge City Council to welcome new members before Tuesday meeting

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BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – New and incumbent council members as well as the mayor will take the oath of office Tuesday evening, Jan. 9, at the first Blue Ridge City Council meeting of the year. New members Kenneth Gaddis, Robbie Cornelius and Nathan Fitts will join incumbents, Post 1 Councilman Harold Herndon and Post 2 Councilwoman Rhonda Thomas and Mayor Donna Whitener. Gaddis, Cornelius and Fitts will assume the positions of Post 3, 4 and 5 council members, respectively.

Prior to the meeting, which will begin at 6 p.m., a one-hour, public meet-and-greet for the new city council will be held at City Hall at 5 p.m.

The meeting itself will see a number agenda items, including several appointments of city positions. Among those appointments will be mayor pro tempore, city attorney, city clerk, city treasurer, municipal court judge, the prosecuting attorney for the court and city auditor. The city charter requires the council to appoint or reappoint the above positions and offices at the start of a new term.

An agenda item tabled from the Dec. 12 meeting, a review of bids for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) water system improvement project, is again expected to be discussed by the Council. At the last meeting, Mayor Whitener mentioned it was recommended by the city’s water system engineering firm, Carter & Sloope, to proceed with the low bidder for the project, The Renee Group, Inc. of Doraville, Georgia. However, Councilwoman Angie Arp suggested the possibility of proceeding with the only local bidder, Holloway Trenching, LLC, of Morganton, whose bid was nearly $54,000 over that of The Renee Group. The decision to award the bid was tabled so as to allow the new council a chance to review and discuss the bids.

Also, the council is expected to discuss revision of its hazard and on-call policy for all city departments as well as discuss recent water issues within the Staurolite subdivision.

Contract quotes for annual routine and emergency maintenance at the city’s waste water treatment facility are also scheduled to be reviewed by the council.

Several invoices and quotes are expected to be discussed and/or approved at Tuesday’s meeting. Those pending purchasing approvals include two invoices from Carter & Sloope, one invoice from Heavy Constructors, Inc. and one invoice from Dwight Oliver Electrical Contractor, Inc. In addition, two quotes from Ellijay Telephone Company (ETC) – one for downtown stereo equipment, which was tabled at the Dec. 12 meeting and another for equipment for the Blue Ridge Police Department – are scheduled for discussion and potential approval.

Cesar Martinez, president of the Blue Ridge Business Association, is also slated to speak in public commentary.

 

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.

City officials meet with county, school representatives over construction projects

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Blue Ridge Mayor Donna Whitener and Utility Supervisor Becky Harkins sat down with officials from the county and the Fannin County Board of Education (FCBOE) as well as County and FCBOE Attorney Lynn Doss and engineers and contractors Tuesday, Dec. 19.

The meeting, as Harkins explained, was a pre-construction meeting that should have taken place before construction began on both the Fannin County Agriculture and Environmental Science Facility and the county’s public safety complex. The city requires a number of pre-construction items to be completed before a construction project is allowed to tap into city water lines. Harkins stated after former Director of Land Development Roy Parsons retired unexpectedly earlier in the year, the pre-construction meeting “fell off the grid (and) didn’t take place” before both entities began construction on their respective projects.

“Our agenda today is to get everybody the information they need in order move forward in a timely manner so that you can complete your projects on time and the lines are up to city development standards so that when you’re done, we can complete the process of taking those lines over, which was the desired attempt from the beginning,” Harkins said.

Harkins distributed a project checklist for everyone present, who included Fannin County Board of Commissioners Chairman Stan Helton, Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Robert Graham, Fannin County Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney and Fannin County Schools Facility and Maintenance Director Danny Shinpaugh.

The most pressing issue on the checklist is receiving approval from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) for the water main extension from Ada Street to Windy Ridge Road. According to Harkins, whenever the city or an independent developer extends a water line for which the city will eventually assume responsibility, the plans must be approved by the EPD as required by the state.

Part of the purpose of the meeting was to determine which entity – the school system or the county – would be responsible for submitting plans to EPD for approval.

Southern Architects and Engineers (A&E) is the engineering firm charged with the construction of the agriculture facility, and Michael Waldbillig, vice president of mechanical engineering for Southern A&E, explained the main extension from Ada will directly service the agriculture facility with the public safety complex line later tapping into the Ag building line at the first manhole after the extension from the existing city line.

Waldbillig inevitably agreed to send the plans for the extension to EPD since the immediate extension from the existing city line will be tied directly to the agriculture facility. Harkins also requested for the plans to be forwarded to the city for final review before Waldbillig sent the plans to EPD, which Waldbillig agreed to do.

Also, during the meeting, a meter vault located at the forthcoming public safety complex was discussed. It was revealed that an additional meter would need to be installed in the vault and the vault would have to be modified. According to EMA Director Graham, the vault, as originally designed, was not large enough to hold a fire line meter.

Graham confirmed that the modification of the vault would increase the overall cost of the public safety complex, but that the county would likely speak with representatives from R Design Works, the engineering firm that designed the public safety complex, and request that the firm cover the costs for the modification.

As far as any delays to the completion of the complex, Graham stated construction was still on schedule despite the need to modify the meter vault, and the projected completion date remains at the end of May 2018.

Regarding the continued construction of the school system’s agriculture facility, Gwatney and Shinpaugh both agreed that they did not anticipate any delays or additional costs to result from the city’s requirements concerning the water main extension and construction would continue as planned. Although the anticipated date of completion for the project is planned for sometime near the end of the school year, Shinpaugh did add that inclement weather in the coming months could be a factor in the construction process of the facility.

 

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.

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